Brissette v. Cactus Club Cabaret Ltd.

On March 16, 2016 the Supreme Court of British Columbia released its reasons for judgment in Brissette v. Cactus Club Cabaret Ltd. Madam Justice Gropper’s reasons for judgment can be found here. Brissette was a slander case: Mr. Brissette alleged that a manager at the Cactus Club restaurant at Canada Place in Vancouver, B.C. slandered him by making false statements to others that he inappropriately touched the server who was looking after his party that evening. The case has been widely reported in the media.

Though the law of defamation is fascinating, the tort of slander is not a traditional component of the liquor law practice in British Columbia. So while the ultimate ruling in Brissette relates to whether or not Mr. Brissette was slandered on that fateful night on the town (he wasn’t) Alcohol & Advocacy considers the decision important to readers for other reasons.

In Brissette the court set out in some detail how management at Cactus Club responded to one of their servers bringing Mr. Brissette’s inappropriate behaviour to their attention, and how they were able to get that party out of the restaurant without any further conflict – not an easy task. The party even paid the bill. While some industry commentators may say that management could have done more, or acted with greater dispatch, in all the circumstances the staff of Cactus Club responded promptly and professionally.

The facts in Brissette are straightforward. On the evening June 24, 2013 the plaintiff Mr. Brissette attended the Canada Place location of Cactus Club in Vancouver, B.C. with a party of ten. Mr. Brissette was an executive with a large construction company that operates throughout North America, and his party consisted of clients and other executives at his company. They were seated at a large rectangular table on the patio. They arrived at approximately 5:30 pm.

Between 5:30 and approximately 10:30 pm Mr. Brissette consumed five nine ounce glasses of wine (a little shy of two bottles’ worth) as well as 2 to 4 ounces of tequila. Incredibly Mr. Brissette’s evidence was that he did not feel drunk, or even “tipsy” at any point while he was at the Cactus Club.

During the course of the evening Mr. Brissette referred to the Cactus Club waitress serving his table as “kitty-kat”, asked to take a photo with her, and inappropriately touched her on her buttocks.

The server reported Mr. Brissette’s inappropriate behaviour to her shift leader, who in turn reported up to the restaurant’s night manager. The night manager subsequently advised Mr. Brissette’s party that Cactus Club was asking them to leave, and that she would be providing them with the bill shortly. When a man at the table asked why they would not be served any more drinks, the night manager informed him that Mr. Brissette had spoken to, and physically touched, their served in an inappropriate manner.

The night manager then left the table, and asked the floor manager to deliver the bill to the table. After paying the bill, Mr. Brissette and his party left the restaurant. These events occurred between approximately 9:55 and 10:30 pm.

Madam Justice Gropper dismissed the lawsuit summarily. She found that the night manager’s statements to Mr. Brissette’s party were true (that Mr. Brissette did inappropriately touch the server, and that he did refer to her as “kitty-kat”), and that as a whole she preferred the evidence of the Cactus Club employees to the evidence of Mr. Brissette and his colleagues.

The Brissette decision is important for hospitality industry professionals to consider because it highlights how effective management can defuse high conflict situations, and ultimately defeat meritless claims.

In only 35 minutes the management at Cactus Club were able to respond to a server’s complaints, and diplomatically obtain a large party’s cooperation to pay to their bill and move on. To some 35 minutes may seem like a long time, but as those with experience in the industry know -customers who have had a fair amount to drink tend to move pretty slowly when they have been asked to exit a busy bar or restaurant. Handled the wrong way, such a tense situation involving a large number of patrons could have erupted into a considerably larger affair.

Have you discussed with your staff the process that would be followed if a similar situation happened in your establishment?

*Alcohol & Advocacy publishes articles for information purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal advice, and persons requiring such advice should consult legal counsel.

Dan Coles
Retired bartender. Young lawyer. From the East, living in the West. Interested in British Columbia's producers and purveyors of wine, beer and spirits.