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Smiling Goat owner sues former employees and union, seeks over $600,000 in damages

Halifax Supreme Court on July 3, 2018.
Halifax Supreme Court on July 3, 2018. Alexander Quon/Global News

The owner of the Smiling Goat chain of coffee shops is suing his former employees and their union, claiming that they “unlawfully conspired” to defame him and hurt his businesses’ economic prospects.

Two separate lawsuits have been filed at Halifax Supreme Court on behalf of Kit (Jagpreet) Singh and the Hebron Hospitality Group Inc., — who operate the Smiling Goat chain of stores — against six of his former employees along with their union, Local 2 of the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU).

The two lawsuits are seeking more than $680,000 in damages.

Earlier this year workers at the Smiling Goat protested, alleging that they were not getting paid — sometimes for months at a time.

Both lawsuits are connected to a push from Smiling Goat employees to unionize and join SEIU in March.

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At the time, only some Smiling Goat locations were unionized.

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First lawsuit alleges conspiracy

One lawsuit’s statement of claim alleges that “SEIU conspired and encouraged” the employees named in the lawsuit to not quit their jobs until after the union’s certification vote on March 23.

The statement alleges that the employees named in the lawsuit quit their jobs after the vote and did notify the company that they had done so. Along with the employees listed in the court filing, the suit says that five other employees either resigned or did not show up for their next assigned shift.

According to the lawsuit, this resulted in the inability to open and operate the Smiling Goat stores.

The closures also resulted in lost revenue.

The lawsuit also alleges that the four employees along with SEIU interfered with other employees and therefore “unlawfully impacted the vote count” in the union’s certification, which was certified in May by the Nova Scotia Labour Board.

As a result, the lawsuit is seeking the lost revenue of the stores for three weeks following the mass resignation, estimated in the court documents as $11,386.

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They are also asking for $100,000 in general damages for the conspiracy to inflict economic harm on the business, $250,000 in punitive damages, the revocation of the union certification and legal fees.

The allegations have not been proven in court, and as of Tuesday, no response has been filed with the court on behalf of the defendants.

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Second lawsuit seeks money from the “tip jar” over defamatory conduct

The second lawsuit alleges that four employees, along with the union, engaged in “defamatory conduct.”

The conduct includes protesting in public and creating social media posts that claimed Singh had personally stolen wages from employees as well as used Smiling Goat funds to take his family to Disney World.

“Mr. Singh did not use [Smiling Goat] funds to take his children to Disney World,” the statement of claim reads, saying that his children’s grandparents gifted the family a trip to Florida.
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The second lawsuit seeks $250,000 in punitive damages, along with general damages and lost revenue.

The lawsuit also seeks money from a “tip jar” to which the public made donations. Any money acquired from a GoFundMe account that was set up for baristas is also sought as damages.

These allegations have likewise not been proven in court, and as of Tuesday, no response has been filed with the court on behalf of the defendants.