Employer Held Responsible for Racial Stereotypes – Even Without Specific Knowledge Of or Intention to Act Upon Stereotype

Posted: July 21, 2013 in Race
Tags: , , ,


The Ontario Human Rights Code protects employees from adverse treatment on the basis of their race. This includes racial stereotypes that may subtly influence decisions, even where the employer is unaware of their influence.

Adams v. Knoll North America Corp.

In Adams v. Knoll North America Corp.[i], a 2009 decision of the Tribunal, an Applicant a self-identified black Applicant became upset at his supervisor and raised his voice and yelled in the workplace. The Applicant’s supervisor felt that the Applicant had lost control and as a result the supervisor felt threatened.

The Applicant was suspended for three-days, and a pre-condition for the Applicant’s return to the workplace was that he undergo anger management counselling through the employer’s assistance plan. The Applicant refused to partake in anger management counselling and his employment was terminated.

The Applicant brought an Application to the Tribunal alleging that he had been discriminated against on the basis of his race. The Tribunal considered whether the Applicant’s race was a factor in the decision to require anger management counselling and found that on a balance of probabilities the employer’s conclusion that he could become violent in the workplace based on one incident of raising his voice and yelling was influenced by the discriminatory stereotype that black men have a propensity to turn to violence.

The Tribunal noted that racial stereotypes can subtly influence decisions, without knowledge or intention. The Tribunal stated:

We have come to understand that the application of racial stereotypes that Black men are prone to violence and criminal behaviour can lead to a greater monitoring and scrutiny of their behaviour. This heightened scrutiny may involve an overreaction to their behaviour when involved in situations that pose challenges for those in authority and this too, can form part of the differential treatment they experience…

The scrutiny itself may be unintentional. The impact of being more highly scrutinized must be examined from the perspective of the racialized person and not from the perspective of those who do not experience it.


Employers, landlords, and service providers (including police officers) can be found to have discriminated for decisions that are based, at least in part, on racial stereotypes – even if unintentional. It is important that decision-makers remain aware of the influence of stereotypes and take action to ensure they do not form a part of their decisions.


[i] 2009 HRTO 1381

  1. Greetings, cool webpage you’ve got going here.

  2. Vigrix B. says:

    I really enjoyed this post. You are very intelligent and made me see this issue from a number of angles. I am beginning to understand human rights principles more – keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s