Friday, March 4, 2022

U of T Law alumnus Howard Levitt

(photo courtesy of Levitt Sheikh / Toronto Employment Lawyers)

University of Toronto alumnus Howard Levitt (LLB 1977), the most widely quoted authority on employment law in Canada, has made a $1-millon gift to the Faculty of Law.

The gift includes $250,000 designated towards graduate student funding, helping attract the best and brightest legal scholars to U of T.

"Howard and Pamela Levitt's support for rising stars in academia, Indigenous programs and our historic place on campus, is truly unique and inspiring,” said University Professor and Dean Jutta Brunnée, James Marshall Tory Dean’s Chair. 

An additional $500k, matched by the University to create a $1-million expendable fund, will support co- and extra-curricular programming led by the Indigenous Initiatives Office (IIO) at U of T Law, including Indigenous student recruitment, teachings by an Elder-in-Residence, and student participation in the Kawaskimhon Moot, a consensus-based, non-adversarial moot that incorporates Indigenous legal traditions alongside federal, provincial and international law.

The new fund will also support early career Indigenous law scholars, for post-master’s and post-doctoral fellowships at the faculty.

Levitt’s gift aligns with a recently renewed commitment from Norman and Gay Loveland to endow a new chair in Indigenous Law with both gifts expanding the IIO’s research, education and outreach pillars.  

The remaining funds will be used to beautify the historic footprint of Falconer Hall at 84 Queen’s Park. The project will be set for completion during the construction of U of T’s new Centre for Civilizations, Cultures and Cities (CCC) located next to Falconer at 90 Queen’s Park.

In recognition of their generous giving to the faculty, the front lawn will be named the Howard and Pamela Levitt Square at Falconer Hall.

“This remarkable gift by the Levitts, for which the faculty is deeply grateful, will have a wide and lasting impact.” said Brunnée. “It will help us, as Canada’s top law school, to remain competitive alongside our international peers.”

“I am proud to contribute to U of T Law. It has immensely helped me – all of the major opportunities in my lifetime and career flowed from the path it set me upon,” says Levitt.

Howard Levitt is the most widely quoted authority on employment law in Canada

A recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Community Service and Citizenship, Levitt practices employment law and labour law in Toronto and throughout Canada. He has appeared as lead counsel in more employment law cases in the Supreme Court of Canada and at more provincial Courts of Appeal than any lawyer in Canadian history. He has been the lead counsel in thousands of employment law cases, acting as counsel in over 50 trials, appeals, judicial reviews and other hearings annually, in addition to acting as chief spokesperson for numerous collective bargaining negotiations in a variety of industries as the labour and employment lawyer for many of Canada’s largest corporations.

“Growing up in Hamilton in my dayanyone politically engaged became absorbed by issues of labour/employment law. There are historic moments in Hamilton's history – the 1946 Stelco strike for example –  focused on labour management issues,” says Levitt.

When I graduated, these new fields of employment law and wrongful dismissal were just beginning. Everybody was justifiably fearful of suing their employer because they would never get another job – and they were right, suing then was debilitating to one’s reputation.”

"The best sacrifice I ever made"

While building the foundation of his legal practice, Levitt realized that the seminal text Canadian Labour Arbitration by U of T Law faculty Brown and Beatty, had no employment law equivalent. He began a disciplined schedule of a 101-hour work week for more than two years, reading every employment law case ever tried across Canada to incorporate them.

The Law of Dismissal in Canada is now in its third edition. He has written or co-authored six books over the course of his career. But he says his first was the most significant.

“It was the best sacrifice I ever made. From its indices, I began writing the Dismissal Employment Law Digest, which I still do today. It forces me to stay up-to-speed on all employment law cases in every province.”

In the mid-80s, Levitt pitched his employment law column to the Toronto Star. The business editor at the time declined, saying that readers weren’t interested in employment law. But Levitt left some sample columns behind and, by the time he returned to his office, was hired.

“For example, I wrote one article on references – there was no court decision on references. I just extrapolated from the laws of libel qualified privilege and  negligence. It made jurisprudential sense and that is now the law as it developed in Canada.”

"I have had a great career and I still love it"

After he was fired from the Toronto Star for repeatedly criticizing unions – and then asked to return because of reader demand – he decided to move his column to the National Post when that publication was first founded. More than 20 years later, he continues to write twice weekly on employment law issues for the Financial Post and other Postmedia papers.

“The Post also let me pursue my passions, which are food, wine and travel. My practice takes me across Canada – I had restaurant reviews before the pandemic on restaurants in Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver and trips that I made to Paris and Copenhagen.”

Levitt also hosts a weekly radio show on Newstalk 1010. At the start of the pandemic, he had eight scheduled shows a week, addressing many employee and employer concerns, including wage cuts and lay-off.

“I have had a great career and still love it. It has so much variety – negotiating union contracts on behalf of companies, injunction applications, wrongful dismissal trials, human rights hearings, workers’ compensation, and providing solicitors advice. It's extraordinarily varied. I never get bored, which is why I'm still doing it at my age and still enjoying being at the top of my game.”

Republished at Defy Gravity the Campaign for the University of Toronto