It’s the stuff of great headlines, but Jian Ghomeshi’s lawsuit against the CBC won’t likely hold up in court, according to a legal expert.
Lawyers for the former radio host filed a statement of claim Monday, seeking $55 million in damages for breach of confidence and defamation.
But Brian Radnoff, commercial litigation and defamation lawyer at Toronto firm Lerners LLP, told the Star the document reads more as a publicity stunt than a serious legal challenge. For starters, said Radnoff, it opens with a quote from former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
“There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”
“That’s not appropriate,” said Radnoff. “Although the quotation is very pithy, and one we all remember and true, it’s not proper in a statement of claim.”
Ghomeshi was fired Sunday amid allegations about his sex life. The Toronto Star later published four women’s accounts of violence and sexual harassment they allegedly suffered at Ghomeshi’s hands. In a statement posted to his Facebook page, Ghomeshi denied the allegations, and said he was the target of a smear campaign orchestrated by an ex-girlfriend. He vowed to take legal action.
The main obstacle the litigation will face has to do with jurisdiction, said Radnoff; because Ghomeshi is part of the CBC’s union, he’ll be expected to resolve issues with his employer through a grievance process.
“The collective agreement has grievance procedures. The court wants you to follow those grievance procedures.”
Dan Oldfield, spokesman for Ghomeshi’s union, the Canadian Media Guild, said typically employees must exhaust their “collective bargaining rights” before proceeding with other action.
Ghomeshi’s lawyers confirmed their client is launching a grievance for reinstatement.
While the lawsuit isn’t technically for wrongful dismissal, it largely pertains to an employment relationship, said Radnoff, and therefore the courts will be hesitant to touch it. He expects the CBC will move to strike the claim on those grounds.
He also believes Ghomeshi could have trouble proving a breach of confidence based on the idea that the CBC wasn’t entitled to use information about his private life to fire him. With respect to defamation, Ghomeshi’s statement of claim argues his reputation will suffer because of the CBC’s statement about his dismissal, which said: “Information came to our attention recently that in the CBC’s judgment precludes us from continuing our relationship with Jian Ghomeshi.”
Radnoff said if the CBC can prove that statement to be true, the defamation charge won’t stick.
“Truth is the defence to any defamation claim.”
Both Radnoff and local publicist Taylor Mann said the whopping $55-million sum points to a public relations strategy.
“It gives the average person an idea of how much he thinks he has been wronged — in this case, $55 million,” said Mann, adding the lawsuit in general gives more credence to Ghomeshi’s assertion that he has been treated unfairly.