Posts Tagged ‘Ontario Human Rights Code’

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O.P.T. v. Presteve Foods Ltd. – Overview of Case

Last week, the HRTO released a landmark decision – O.P.T. v. Presteve Foods Ltd., 2015 HRTO 657. The Respondent, Presteve Foods, hired two migrant workers, properly referred to as temporary foreign workers, into their fish processing plant. A number of allegations of misconduct were raised during the course of their employment against Jose Pratas, the owner of Presteve Foods, which included unwanted sexual solicitations and advances, sexual assault and touching, a sexually poisoned work environment, discrimination on the basis of sex, and reprisal for claiming Code rights.

The findings of fact were extensive and the Tribunal found them to be “unprecedented.” The Tribunal found, amongst other things, that Mr. Pratas forced one employee referred to as O.P.T. to perform fellatio on him on several occasions. Mr. Pratas engaged in intercourse with O.P.T. on a number of occasions. He regularly threatened to send O.P.T. back to her native country (Mexico).

In order to keep her job and avoid deportation, O.P.T. felt she had no other choice but to comply with Mr. Pratas’ sexual demands. O.P.T. was the sole provider for her two children, her husband having been tragically killed previously. Being a temporary foreign worker, O.P.T. was completely dependent upon Presteve Foods. Employers do not require a reason to end a temporary foreign worker’s employment and when that occurs the worker is repatriated to his or her home country without any right to appeal.

$150,000.00 Awarded as General Damages

While this Decision is extremely important in that it recognizes the unique position of vulnerability of temporary foreign workers, it is equally important in that the quantum of damages is unprecedented. Vice-Chair Mark Hart ordered Presteve Foods and Mr. Pratas to pay damages to O.P.T. for compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect (also known as general damages) in the amount of $150,000.00.

Last year, I wrote a blog article praising a 2013 decision of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, Kelly v. University of British Columbia, where the Tribunal awarded $75,000.00 in general damages. I concluded that blog with hope that Ontario would follow suit and increase their general damage awards. It appears that hope has been realized.

O.P.T. v. Presteve Foods Ltd. is precedent-setting. Even though the award is proportionate to existing HRTO jurisprudence given the unprecedented facts as pointed out by the Tribunal, it is still three times greater than the highest award ordered previously by the HRTO. Two very courageous applicants willing to see the process through, represented by superb legal counsel, and a Vice-Chair with the courage and conviction to break away from the pack and award a meaningful and justified general damage award that has never been seen before in Ontario, has resulted in a decision that I can only hope is the beginning of increased general damage awards across the board. While there will certainly be those who suggest this is an outlier decision given its unique facts, one thing is for certain – the ceiling has been raised.

See No Evil

It is very common for Applicants to settle their Application prior to a Hearing before an adjudicator. Applicants choose to settle for a number of different reasons. Very rarely however do applicants believe the settlement adequately compensates them for their losses (economic losses and pain, humiliation, and loss of dignity). Rather they settle for a variety of other reasons, including:

  • Inability or unwillingness to “re-live” the events giving rise to the Application;
  • The length of time it takes to get to the Hearing can deter Applicants who want to “move on” in their life and put the events behind them;
  • Health issues;
  • Applicants often have concerns with the fact that Tribunal decisions are made public and published on the internet at CanLII. Potential employers in the future may search the internet and discover that Applicants have commenced a human rights proceeding in the past against a previous employer and decide  not to hire them (this is a legitimate concern because such decisions by prospective employers are often very difficult to prove, even though a decision not to hire an employee on the basis of a previous human rights application however would constitute reprisal contrary to section 8 of the Code), and
  • Risk-benefit analysis (Applicants are often in a poor financial situation following discrimination and if they are unable to prove their case before the Tribunal they will not receive any monetary award – A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush or so the old saying goes).

Applicants make significant sacrifices, both economically and emotionally, when deciding to settle. There is frequently an economic power imbalance between Applicants and Respondents. For many Applicants, they cannot afford to wait for or go through a hearing. The same cannot often be said for Respondents. Recognizing the particular vulnerability of those who have alleged discrimination, it is very important that Applicants have confidence that the settlement entered into will be honoured by the Respondent or the Tribunal will intervene appropriately.

There have been a line of cases recently, where Respondents have breached the terms of settlement. Most often, the Respondent has refused to pay or has delayed payment. While many may believe delayed payment is not a “big deal”, to an Applicant who is in dire need of money, it is a “very big deal”. A contravention of settlement also forces the Applicant to turn his or her mind to the issues once again, worry about whether or not they will receive the monetary amount, and have to deal with legal counsel if they are represented, likely incurring additional legal fees. Given the gravity of a breach of settlement, the Human Rights Tribunal should respond aggressively to discourage such acts. To date however, the Tribunal’s response has been lacking.

The Tribunal’s Response to Settlement Contraventions

The Ontario Human Rights Code gives the Tribunal the authority to make any order it considers appropriate to remedy a breach of a settlement agreement.[i] Here is an overview of some of the Tribunal’s recent contravention of settlement decisions:

In Xitimul v. Marriott Hotels[ii] the Respondent was 11 days late in making payment. The Respondent explained that the delay occurred as it had to reissue payment due to a tax deduction error with the initial payment. The Tribunal ordered $150.00 as monetary compensation for the contravention of settlement.

In Weitzmann v. Burns[iii] the Respondent failed to pay the settlement amount of $1,500.00 to the Applicant, explaining that the failure to pay was due to “minor health issues” which “led to serious health issues which he attributed to the applicant’s conduct towards him”. The Tribunal ordered the original $1,500.00 amount be paid. In addition the Tribunal ordered an additional $500.00 as a remedy for the contravention of settlement.

In Schenk v. Nixon[iv] the Respondent failed to pay $25,000.00 to the Applicant pursuant to the Minutes of Settlement. The Respondent explained the failure to pay, claiming to be in dire financial circumstances and “impecunious”. The Tribunal ordered the amount to be paid forthwith, however in the event that they are not paid the Respondent was required to deliver an irrevocable direction to his lawyer to pay the amount from the proceeds of another civil action where the Respondent was a Plaintiff. As a remedy for the contravention of settlement, the Tribunal ordered an additional $1,000.00.

In Medeiros v. Cambridge Canvas Centre[v] the Respondent failed to pay the settlement amount sum of $5,000.00. The Respondent argued that the Applicant breached the confidentiality provision in the terms of settlement and relied upon this alleged breach as an explanation for its failure to pay. The Tribunal ordered the Respondent to pay an additional $1,500.00 to remedy the contravention of settlement.

In Bailey v. Rock With Us Marble & Granite[vi], the most recent contravention of settlement decision (released by the Tribunal in September, 2013), the Respondent agreed to pay the Applicant $7,000.00 in seven installments. The Respondent was delayed in paying the settlement funds. After the Applicant filed an Application for contravention of settlement, the Respondent provided the remainder of the cheques owing. When the Applicant cashed the cheques however, they were rejected for “insufficient funds”. The Tribunal ordered the remainder of the amount owing to be paid and an additional $1,000.00 for monetary compensation arising out of the breach of settlement.

Conclusion

By the time Applicants get to mediation, they very rarely trust the Respondent. If Applicants feel they cannot count on the Tribunal to respond appropriately to contraventions of settlement, we may experience a “chilling effect” and significant decrease in the number of cases that settle.

Damages in the range of $150.00 to $1,500.00 may be insufficient to compensate Applicants for additional harm suffered and discourage future contraventions of settlement.  These damages seemingly do not reflect the fact that Applicants in these situations are typically “re-victimized” and put to greater expense and emotional turmoil with yet another Application to the Tribunal to recover what they are already entitled to.

END NOTES


[i] Section 45.9(8) of the Ontario Human Rights Code states that the Tribunal can “make any order that it considers appropriate to remedy the contravention”.

[ii] Xitimul v. Marriott Hotels, 2011 HRTO 1867

[iii] Weitzmann v. Burns, 2011 HRTO 818

[iv] Shenk v. Nixon, 2011 HRTO 1312

[v] Medeiros v. Cambridge Canvas Centre, 2011 HRTO 1519

[vi] Bailey v. Rock With Us Marble & Granite, 2013 HRTO 1510

Racism

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

END NOTES


[i] 2009 HRTO 1381