General damages awarded by human rights tribunals are intended to compensate for discrimination and to act as a deterrent.
The Alberta Human Rights Act provides no statutory limit on how much general damages can be awarded. However, in the past general damages awarded by the Human Rights Tribunal of Alberta (the “Tribunal”) generally ranged from $3,000 to a top end “cap” of $10,000.
This has changed since the Alberta Court of Appeal decision in 2013 of Walsh v. Mobil Oil Canada. In Walsh, the court stressed that inadequate damage awards undermined the mandate of human rights legislation to recognize and affirm that all persons are equal, and to protect against and compensate for discrimination. The court concluded that low damage awards could actually perpetuate discriminatory conduct.
Beginning in 2015 there has been a notable trend towards higher general damages awards, and the Tribunal has issued a number of decisions awarding general damages in the range of $10,000 to $15,000.
In Amir and Nazar v. Webber Academy Foundation the Tribunal found that it was not undue hardship to allow Muslim students to pray during the school day in a secular private school, and awarded general damages of $12,000 and $14,000 to each complainant.
Similarly, in Andric v. 585105 Alberta Ltd. o/a Spasation Salon & Day Spa, the Tribunal found that the employer had unjustifiably changed the complainant’s position and work location of 10 years after she was assaulted by a co-worker. The Tribunal concluded that the shared religious beliefs between the co-worker who assaulted the complainant and the employer were a factor in the respondent’s decision to transfer the complainant. The complainant was awarded general damages of $15,000 and lost wages for a 24 month period.
More recently, on July 5, 2016 the Tribunal issued its decision in Thu Hien Pham v. Vu’s Enterprise Ltd. o/a La Prep, which continued this trend of higher general damage awards. The complainant, Ms. Pham was awarded $15,000 in general damages by the Tribunal, who found that Ms. Pham had been harassed by her former employer. On awarding $15,000 in general damages, the Tribunal chair noted that “it was important to ensure that damages are not so low as to trivialize the protection of human rights”, and “[w]hile I may have been inclined to consider a greater amount…this was the amount requested by the Director and the complainant”.
Accordingly, employers can expect to see larger awards in the future for both general damages and loss of income, and should not discount the risks and exposure of a human rights complaint.
These decisions of the Human Rights Tribunal of Alberta can be found here:
- Amir and Nazar v. Webber Academy Foundation, 2015 AHRC 8 (currently under appeal): http://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abhrc/doc/2015/2015ahrc8/2015ahrc8.html?resultIndex=1
- Andric v. 585105 Alberta Ltd. o/a Spasation Salon & Day Spa, 2015 AHRC 14: http://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abhrc/doc/2015/2015ahrc14/2015ahrc14.html?resultIndex=1
- Pham v. Vu’s Enterprises Ltd., 2016 AHRC 12: http://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abhrc/doc/2016/2016ahrc12/2016ahrc12.html?resultIndex=1