Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario’

Zero Tolerance

2018 has been a significant year so far at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in terms of remedies. Over the past decade or so, damages for compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect, have traditionally been between $10,000 and $20,000. The high water mark was less than $50,000. Then on May 22, 2015, Vice-Chart Mark Hart issued decision where he awarded $150,000, raising the bar on these damages substantially (click here to read a blog I wrote shortly after O.P.T. v. Presteve Foods Ltd. was released).

After Presteve was released, lawyers, adjudicators and participants in the human rights system were left wondering whether it was an outlier decision given the serious facts, or whether this marked a significant shift in the quantum of awards more generally.

Throughout 2016 and 2017 the general damage awards remained relatively stagnant, creeping up slightly toward a $20,000 average.

Finally, we get to 2018. On January 24, 2018, Vice-Chair Dawn Kershaw (no longer an adjudicator at the HRTO) released A.B. v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited,[i]  and on February 26, 2018, Vice-Chair Maureen Doyle released G.M. v. X Tattoo Parlour.[ii] I will summarize each of these decisions briefly.

A.B. v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited

The Applicant in this case was a single mother who not only worked for Joe Singer Shoes, but also lived in an apartment located above the store. The Applicant made a number of serious allegations against Mr. Singer, including that he made fun of her language skills and her body, made inappropriate comments about her place of origin, and sexually assaulted and harassed her over several years.

Mr. Singer denied the allegations and the case turned on credibility – who did the Tribunal believe on a balance of probabilities? The Tribunal preferred the evidence of the Applicant, finding that she was sexually harassed and solicited not only at work in the store, but also in her apartment. Vice-Chair Kershaw stated at paragraph 143:

I find on a preponderance of probabilities that Mr. Singer sexually harassed and assaulted both in her apartment and in his office which as part of her place of employment. The applicant was vulnerable given she had no family here, was single, lived above the store and English was not her first language. I find that Mr. Singer told the applicant she was stuck, that he had money and would get the best lawyers if she reported him while she would have to rely on community lawyers, and that she stayed because she felt she had no option.

The Tribunal ordered $200,000 in damages for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect, becoming the highest general damage award ever awarded by the Tribunal.

G.M. v. X Tattoo Parlour

The Applicant in this case was a fifteen year old intern who worked in a tattoo parlour. This was her first job and she aspired to be a tattoo artist in the future. The Applicant alleged that the inappropriate behaviour began as sexual conversation and after two weeks included inappropriate touching and then a solicitation to engage in sex in exchange for money and a tattoo.

The Applicant pled guilty to three criminal charges, including one for sexual assault.

The Tribunal found or the Applicant, noting at paragraph 57:

…the Applicant’s vulnerability was marked. As a minor, working at her first job, she was extremely vulnerable, and I find that this was compounded by the fact that her boss, the individual respondent, was a trusted family friend.

Vice-Chair Doyle stated:

…I am persuaded that this applicant experienced in a profound way, humiliation, hurt feelings, a loss of self-respect, a loss of dignity, a loss of self-esteem and confidence following the events at the tattoo parlour…Prior to her experience with the respondent, she had a love of drawing, and the joy she derived from it has now been taken away from her. She was previously excited about the prospect of a career using her art, in the form of tattoos, considering it to be an honour to have someone commit to wearing her art on their body. She no longer has excitement, or even interest, in a field she previously identified as desirable and one that she wished to pursue as a career…While many teenagers may be expected to change their minds, even several times, regarding their future career choices, the applicant did not have the opportunity to change her mind through a process of discernment: rather, she had her dream taken away from her by the respondent’s actions.

Vice-Chair Doyle ordered $75,000 as compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect. The award was made jointly and severally against both the tattoo parlour and the owner as an individual (meaning that if the business went bankrupt, the owner would also personally be liable for damages).

Take Away

General damage awards are rising. We are seeing a significant increase in damages for sexual harassment and sexual solicitation. It’s about time. While these are significant award relative to past awards from the Tribunal, they are still too low from a moral perspective. Anyone who believes $75,000 is a fair number to compensate a teenager working in her first job who was sexually harassed and assaulted by her boss (also a family friend), needs to re-evaluate. Most people would not agree that $200,000 is sufficient to compensate an individual who has repeatedly experienced sexual assault over a multi-year period. While these damage awards are exciting in that they signal a substantial increase in the quantum of awards coming out of the Tribunal, they are simply not sufficient in relation to the serious conduct that occurred. Having said that, in G.M., it should be noted that the Applicant was only seeking $75,000 in general damages and Vice-Chair Doyle awarded what was sought.

Another unfortunate fact is that general damage awards in cases involving discrimination on the basis of disability (the majority of cases before the Tribunal) are not markedly increasing. High outlier decisions focusing on sexual harassment and solicitation are positive, but what would be more effective for Ontarians would be an increase in general damage awards across cases involving all of the Code­-grounds to prevent exactly what the Divisional Court has previously cautioned against – that general damage awards should not be so low that they are a mere license fee for employers to discriminate.

___________________________________________

[i] A.B. v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited, 2018 HRTO 107 (Vice-Chair Dawn Kershaw)

[ii] G.M. v. X Tattoo Parlour, 2018 HRTO 201 (Vice Chair Maureen Doyle)

Remedy search

A couple of days ago I wrote a paper for the Ontario Bar Association’s Constitutional, Civil Liberties and Human Rights Section, posted here. The article is re-posted herein. It explores the concept of damages in lieu of reinstatement in the context of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Since the change to the direct access model in 2008, the Tribunal has never ordered these damages previously, and the failure to award damages in lieu of reinstatement where an employment relationship is not viable compounds the harm experienced by victims of discrimination. This is particular so where the relationship has broken down through no fault of the applicant.

Background: Remedial Principles of Ontario Human Rights Legislation

.
One objective of the Ontario Human Rights Code is the elimination of discrimination. To achieve this objective, the Ontario Legislature has given the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario broad remedial powers to order compensation for loss arising out of the infringement (including lost wages and general damages to compensate for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect), non-monetary restitution, or “anything that, in the opinion of the Tribunal, the party ought to do to promote compliance” with the Code.[i]

Code damages are not intended to punish an offending party. The intention of the offending party is not a relevant factor in determining the appropriate remedy at the Tribunal.[ii] Rather, the Code is remedial and damages are designed to put the applicant into a position she or he would have been in but for the discrimination experienced.[iii] The ultimate goal is to make the applicant “whole” to the extent reasonably possible.[iv]

The Tribunal’s remedial power is not limited by “proportionality”. Causation is the appropriate guiding principle applicable to human rights remedies.[v] Applicants should only be compensated for the harm experienced from discrimination that is caused by the respondent.

Reinstatement as a Presumptive Remedy

.
One potential remedy available to make the applicant “whole” is reinstatement. I often hear practitioners claim that reinstatement is an “exceptional remedy” or “rarely awarded”. This is misleading. Applicants rarely request reinstatement. When it is requested, it is often awarded.[vi] In addressing reinstatement as a viable remedy, the Supreme Court of Canada stated in McKinney v. University of Guelph:

It should be noted that the rights of the appellants which have been infringed pertain to their dignity and sense of self-worth and self-esteem as valued members of the community, values which are at the very centre of the Charter. It would be insufficient, in my view, to make any order which does not seek to redress the harm which flows from the violations of this interest. Reinstatement is clearly the most effective way of righting the wrong that has been caused…[vii]

Reinstatement is often the only remedy that will truly put an applicant into the position she or he would have been in had the discrimination not occurred. Reinstatement, when sought, is only refused by the Tribunal when there is a reason not to order it. In the past the Tribunal has declined to order reinstatement where it has found that the applicant would have been terminated in any event even if the discrimination had not occurred,[viii] or there is animosity between the parties and the employment relationship is no longer viable.[ix] Given that reinstatement is often ordered when sought, and only declined where there is reason to decline it, it seems reinstatement may be more appropriately considered the “presumptive remedy” rather than an “exceptional remedy”.

Damages in Lieu of Reinstatement? – The HRTO Fails to Appreciate the “Make Whole” Remedial Principles of the Code

.
As mentioned above, there are relatively few cases where reinstatement is sought. While reinstatement is awarded when sought, there are a handful of cases where it is not awarded, and in these cases a troubling trend emerges – the Tribunal does not order damages ordered in lieu of reinstatement. In these cases, the prejudice of a non-viable employment relationship effectively falls upon applicants and respondents reap the benefit. I will highlight the issue through a brief example:

Joe, a sixty-three year old labourer, has worked for Discrimination Corporation (“DC”) for the past thirty-seven years. Two years ago DC hired a new general manager, who immediately identified DC’s aging workforce as an issue to be addressed. A voluntary retirement program was put into place and older workers were transitioned out of the workforce.

Joe, however, had spent the majority of his life at DC and declined participation in the voluntary retirement program. When it became clear Joe would not leave voluntarily, the new general manager resorted to other tactics. Comments were made to Joe about his age on a regular basis and he was assigned the most physically strenuous jobs in the factory. Not surprisingly, the strenuous jobs took their toll on Joe’s health and he now suffers from repetitive strain injuries to both wrists.

Joe knew that his employer was trying to force him out of the workplace. After months of negative comments and deteriorating health, Joe lost his temper and snapped at his general manager. His employment was immediately terminated for just cause.

Joe filed an application with the Tribunal alleging discrimination on the basis of his age. One and a half years later Joe’s hearing date arrives. By this time, he has exhausted his employment insurance benefits and has been unable to find work, despite applying to every position he came across. Joe is seeking reinstatement to DC Corporation.

The Tribunal finds that Joe was treated adversely and terminated solely as a result of his age. Under cross-examination, Joe admitted that he doesn’t like the general manager and would find it very difficult to work with him again in the future. The Tribunal finds that there is animosity between Joe and the general manager, and concludes that the employment relationship is no longer viable.[x] Lost wages are ordered to the date of the hearing, as well as $15,000.00 in general damages, but reinstatement is not. The Tribunal has refused to order wage loss following the date of the hearing.

It would be a stretch to claim Joe has been made “whole”. Joe is put into the position that he would have been in but for the discrimination to the date of the hearing, but he is now 64 years of age, disabled, un-employed and with no source of income. His chances of finding alternative employment are slim. Reinstatement would have given him the ability to continue to earn a living, but because Joe became resentful and lost his temper after nearly a year of discriminatory treatment and the fact that he no longer likes the general manager who repeatedly discriminated against him, the employment relationship is “not viable”. The Tribunal, quite inappropriately, follows its past decisions and refuses to order wage loss following the hearing date.[xi]

Is it fair that Joe’s story ends with reinstatement being declined? Let’s look at the case scenario above more closely. The employment relationship may not be viable. The reason for that however is that Joe’s manager targeted him for a year and Joe became resentful of the discrimination. Put another way, “but for” the discrimination Joe would not have become resentful and hurt, and the employment relationship would have been viable. Should DC benefit from the discriminatory campaign it undertook to eliminate Joe from the workplace? From a remedial perspective, should Joe suffer as a result of the discriminatory actions taken by DC? If so, that provides respondents with a clear incentive to engage in aggressive behaviours to bolster their position that the employment relationship is no longer viable (if they do so, reinstatement is less likely to be ordered when sought).

To prevent this result, where the Tribunal finds the employment relationship no longer viable through no fault of the applicant, the Tribunal ought to order damages to compensate the applicant for the fact that the discriminatory actions have resulted in animosity and an unsalvageable employment relationship.

In fairness, it may be that applicants don’t ask for damages in lieu of the right to reinstatement. When these damages are sought however, and hopefully they will be sought on a consistent basis by applicants moving forward, the Tribunal would be failing the remedial objectives of the Code in refusing to order these damages.

Framework for Ordering Damages in Lieu of Reinstatement

.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has not substantially addressed damages in lieu of reinstatement. Other forums have made such awards and below are two cases, which could serve as examples for how the Tribunal may determine such damages in the future. In applying the Canada Labour Code, adjudicators have adopted the so-called “modern approach” to damages in lieu of reinstatement.  That approach, which will be highlighted below, may be appropriate, particularly since the remedial principles contained within the Canada Labour Code are similar those in the Ontario Human Rights Code.  

Section 242 of the Canada Labour Code provides for compensatory damages in the form of lost wages and reinstatement, as well as a catch-all equitable provision, which provides that an adjudicator can “do any other like thing that is equitable to require the employer to do in order to remedy or counteract any consequence of dismissal”.

In Taylor v. Exalta Transport Services Ltd.[xii], Adjudicator Williams-Whitt adopted the modern approach from a previous arbitral decision under the Canada Labour Code. The method is a simple formula, whereby the employee receives one and one half months’ pay for each year the complainant worked. In the human rights context, the employee’s length of employment was irrelevant, however the Tribunal could ultimately assess damages in lieu of the right to reinstatement in a similar manner as the Tribunal assesses general damages. The Tribunal avoided speculative future lost wages by ordering damages based on its assessment of a reasonable time period for the employee to find alternative work, taking into consideration the individual circumstances of the applicant.  While the Tribunal does not award common law damages, a reasonable assessment of what the damages may be is more appropriate than a flat-out refusal to make the applicant whole because of the fear of speculative damages.

As an alternative to the “modern approach”, a federal tribunal applied remedial principles to reach a damages award that it considered fair in the circumstances. In Turner v. Canada (Border Services Agency),[xiii] the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that Canada Border Services Agency discriminated against Turner on the basis of his age, race, colour and perceived disability (obesity), in depriving him of employment opportunities in two separate job competitions. Turner initially sought reinstatement, however at the remedy stage of the hearing, he withdrew his request and instead sought damages in lieu of the right to reinstatement. By the time of the remedy hearing, Turner was employed with Service Canada, earning approximately $13,059.57 per year. As damages in lieu of the reinstatement, the Tribunal ordered the difference in pay between the two jobs for a period of five years, totalling $65,297.85. While the Tribunal did not explain its reasons for choosing a five-year period, the decision nonetheless recognized the harm caused by the forfeiture of the claim to reinstatement.

Conclusion

.
The ‘make whole’ remedial principles of the Ontario Human Rights Code ought to necessitate that where reinstatement is sought and not ordered, damages should be ordered in lieu in order to make the applicant whole to the extent reasonably possible. There are different ways to determine the quantum of these damages, but a straight refusal to order any remedy in this respect, is a failure to eliminate discrimination in Ontario and put an applicant into a position she or he would have been in but for the discrimination she or he has experienced. It also fails to recognize the extremely vulnerable circumstances of many applicants and the challenges they will face in obtaining alternative employment.

End Notes


[i] The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario’s broad remedial powers are found at section 45.2 of the Code.

[ii] While intention is not relevant in determining an appropriate remedy for a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code, it is relevant federally when determining the appropriate remedy for a contravention of the Canadian Human Rights Act, where section 53(3) provides that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal may award up to $20,000.00 in additional compensation if the Tribunal finds that the respondent “has engaged in the discriminatory practice wilfully or recklessly”.

[iii] ADGA Group Consultants Inc. v. Lane (2008), 91 O.R. (3d) 694 at para 129 (Div. Ct.) at para 151.

[iv] Ontario Human Rights Commission v. Impact Interiors Inc., [1998] O.J. No. 2908 (Ont. C.A.) at para 2.

[v] Ibid. (ADGA) at para 151 where the Divisional Court states that damages must be “reasonably foreseeable”.

[vi] See British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. British Columbia Government Service Employees’ Union, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 3 (“Meiorin”) at para 3, where the Supreme Court allowed an appeal and restored the arbitrator’s decision to reinstate an employee, Nilsson v. University of Prince Edward Island, [2013] P.E.I.H.R.B.I.D. No. 2 where the Board of Inquiry ordered a professor reinstated following a finding of age discrimination, Matheson v. Presbytery of Prince Edward Island and Others, [2007] P.E.I.H.R.B.I.D. No. 1 where the Board of Inquiry ordered reinstatement eleven years after the breach of the Human Rights Act had occurred, and, Fair v. Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, 2013 HRTO 440 where the Tribunal ordered the applicant reinstated to an alternative position almost nine years following her termination.

[vii] McKinney v. University of Guelph, [1990] 3 S.C.R. 229 at para 341.

[viii] Pelletier v. Veolia Transportation, 2015 HRTO 323

[ix] Supra note vi (Fair) at para 17.

[x] It should be noted that there are cases opposing this line of reasoning. For instance, in Narraine v. Ford Motor Co., [1996] O.H.R.B.I.D. No. 43, the Board of Inquiry addressed the damaged working relationship, stating at paragraph 10: This type of reasoning has provoked discussion in human rights jurisprudence as well. One human rights tribunal initially refused to reinstate the complainant to her original position at the Secretary of State office in Regina because it found that the “reunion would be a recipe for disaster,” and that there was “too much bitterness between the parties to think that reinstatement of the complainant to her former job is workable”. [See Pitawanakwat v. Canada (Secretary of State) (1992), 19 C.H.R.R. D/110 (Can. Hum. Rts. Tribunal). This decision was overturned by the Federal Court, Trial Division which concluded that potential for future problmes did not justify a decision to refuse reinstatement, and that failing to grant full reinstatement could “minimize” and “enfeeble” the impact of human rights law. [See Pitawanakwat v. Canada (Attorney General) (1994), 21 C.H.R.R. D/355.

[xi] For a critique of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario’s refusal to order speculative future lost wages see my previous article located here https://ontariohumanrights.net/2015/07/09/speculate_damages/

[xii] Taylor v. Exalta Transport Services Ltd., [2009] C.L.A.D. No. 110 (Adjudicator Williams-Whitt)

[xiii] Turner v. Canada (Border Services Agency), [2015] C.H.R.D. No. 10 (Member Wallace Craig)

Surrounded

David and Goliath: Unrepresented Applicants versus Represented Respondents

Monetary Awards are Relatively Small

The vast majority of applications before the Tribunal do not result in significant monetary settlements or awards. There are exceptions of course (for example, see Fair v. Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board where the Tribunal ordered in excess of $425,000.00 in damages). Significant monetary awards are the exception rather than the norm however.

The Majority of Applicants are Self-Represented

Because awards are relatively small and many applicants are often unemployed at the time they contemplate bringing an application, many applicants simply cannot afford to hire lawyers who charge significant hourly rates. Perhaps this is the reason why many applicants are unrepresented. Last years for example, approximately 76% of Applicants were unrepresented at the time they filed their Application. This contrasts starkly with respondents, the majority of who have legal representation right from the start.

Access to Justice?

This presents a significant barrier to access to justice. Applicants who believe they have experienced discrimination are often left to fend for themselves in a process that is not always easy to navigate (although the adjudicators at the Tribunal are sensitive to this fact and often take steps necessary to help self-represented applicants understand the process). The impact is intensified when these unrepresented applicants are then pitted against experienced Respondent-side legal counsel. Talk about David and Goliath. Unfortunately, in the human rights context, David is too often unsuccessful.

At the very least, applicants should consult with an applicant-side human rights lawyer to discuss their case prior to drafting the Application. It is important that applicants understand the process, what the various grounds include, and what they must prove in order to be successful. This should be understood from the outset to avoid making costly mistakes right from the start. Ideally, applicants should be afforded quality legal representation to represent them through the process and ultimately at a hearing if it comes to that (keeping in mind that the majority of matters settle without the need for a full hearing).

Alternative Fee Arrangements – Applicants CAN Afford a Human Rights Lawyer

Many applicants however are under the assumption that lawyers cost several hundred dollars per hour. While this is true for some lawyers it is not always the case. Most human rights lawyers could not sustain an applicant-side practice charging hefty hourly rates. When seeking legal representation, applicants should be aware of alternative fee structures. Most lawyers who are passionate about social justice will be open to different arrangements. Some of these may include:

1. Contingency Fee Arrangement — The fee paid to the lawyer is contingent upon the amount obtained for the Applicant. For example, if the Applicant does not obtain any amount (i.e. is unsuccessful at a hearing) then the lawyer does not recoup any legal fee. The lawyer essentially shares the risk with the Applicant. Most lawyers will not agree to a straight contingency fee arrangement in the human rights context, but rather are more likely to agree to some combination of hourly rate and contingency fee arrangement.

2. Hybrid Hourly Rate/Contingency Fee Arrangement — There are a number of different combinations that can be agreed to. For example, the lawyer could represent the Applicant on a contingency fee arrangement for all work done short of the hearing (keeping in mind that most matters resolve themselves without the need for a hearing) and then an hourly rate for representation in the hearing if the matter does proceed. Alternatively, a lawyer could charge 50% of their regular hourly rate and take 20% of the amount achieved. In this scenario, the lawyer is assuming some of the risk with the Applicant by offering a reduced hourly rate in exchange for a percentage of any amount obtained.

3. Hourly Rate Arrangement — Of course there is the straight hourly rate where the Applicant is charged a set rate for every hour the lawyer expends on the Applicant’s behalf.

4. Flat Fee Arrangement — Under this arrangement the Applicant and lawyer agree to a flat fee in advance for all work done on the Application. There are also hybrid flat fee arrangements – for example, some lawyers will agree to a flat fee for all work done short of the hearing and then an hourly rate for representation during the hearing (again keeping in mind that the majority of matters resolve themselves prior to a hearing).

It is worthwhile for applicants to think about fee structures prior to their consultation. What fee structures a lawyer may agree to will be dependent on the size of the lawyer’s practice, the number of clients they have, their particular law firm, etc. It is important that applicants feel comfortable with the lawyer they choose to represent them. Remember, all lawyers are different in terms of the retainer and fee structure they are willing to enter into. You should be able to find quality legal representation under terms that you can afford.

If you require assistance with your human rights matter or would like to book a legal consultation please contact Wade Poziomka.