Way back in 2008, the Ontario Human Rights Code was amended to permit human rights claims to be piggybacked onto wrongful dismissal actions in the Ontario courts. Prior to that time, the only recourse for an employee with a discrimination claim was to make a complaint to the [then] Human Rights Commission. Some 5 years later, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has recently released its very first decision in a joint wrongful dismissal/discrimination action.
The case in question was the September decision of Justice Grace in Wilson v. Solis Mexican Foods Inc. Patricia Wilson was a 16 month employee at the time of her termination, and off work due to back problems. The reason given for Ms. Wilson’s termination was a corporate reorganization, but the court found that reasoning “[defied] common sense” as Ms. Wilson was never told about the impending reorganization while it was taking place. The court looked closely at the communications between Ms. Wilson’s doctor and employer, and found that the only conclusion that could be drawn was that the employer was not happy with Ms. Wilson’s ongoing back problems and absences from work, or her requests for accomodation. Justice Grace reiterated that as long as an employee’s disability is a factor in the decision to terminate, there will be a finding of discrimination. That is the case whether the disability is the sole factor or simply one small factor in the decision-making process. In this case it was clear to the judge that Ms. Wilson’s back problems were a significant factor in the decision to terminate, but the result would have been the same even if her back problems were but one factor along with the reorganization.
Having determined that Ms. Wilson had been discriminated against, the court awarded her $20,000 due to the fact that she “lost the right to be free from discrimination” and experienced “victimization”, and due to the fact that the employer orchestrated her dismissal and was disingenuous both before and during the termination. That amount was in addition to the damages received in lieu of notice of termination.
Interestingly, the court did not comment on whether or not reinstatement of employment was an option, thereby leaving that issue to another court on another day. While employees pursuing complaints at the Human Rights Tribunal can seek reinstatement, and while the Human Rights Code appears to permit courts to make similar orders, we still have no guidance as to whether reinstatement will become a tool used by our courts.
To view the decision, click here: http://canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2013/2013onsc5799/2013onsc5799.html