Abuse of process: Ontario’s human rights tribunal dismisses claim from worker who received earlier payment from employer

A wallet with Canadian money. Photo: Canva

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed an application alleging discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, and reprisal in the social area of employment based on sex and sexual orientation, ruling it to be an abuse of process.

That’s because the worker, DF, had previously settled a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) based on the same facts and had signed minutes of settlement with his employer — Ashley Furniture Homestore — about seven months before filing the application with the Tribunal.

The tribunal conducted a combined summary and preliminary hearing via videoconference on April 28, 2023. During the hearing, DF did not file any witness statement, and no oral testimony was received. Four documents were entered as exhibits.

The hearing was divided into two parts, with the preliminary hearing issues argued first, followed by the summary hearing issues. Ultimately, the tribunal ruled that the application should be dismissed in its entirety as an abuse of process. The applicant had attempted to relitigate claims that had already been settled through the OLRB complaint, it said.

Seeking $145,000 in compensation

In the procedural background, it was revealed that the applicant had filed the initial application in January 2020, seeking compensation in the amount of $145,000, including special damages for lost wages. The claims included workplace bullying, derision, intimidation, racist and sexual comments, sexual harassment by a co-manager, and termination without addressing the concerns raised.

DF told the tribunal that the OLRB proceeding was complete and that the facts of the application were part of that proceeding. However, the respondent argued that the application essentially copied the claims made in the OLRB complaint verbatim.

The employer respondent contended that the application constituted an abuse of process, and allowing it to proceed would violate principles of judicial economy, consistency, finality, and undermine the integrity of the administration of justice. The respondent emphasized that the applicant had already received compensation as per the minutes of settlement.

$4,000 payment in OLRB complaint

The minutes stated that, in consideration for a payment of $4,000, DF would withdraw the OLRB complaint in its entirety.

In response, DF argued that the absence of release language in the settlement indicated that he did not intend for there to be finality, thus justifying pursuing the claims before the Tribunal.

“In my view, the words ‘in its entirety’ means that the minutes of settlement covers the entire OLRB complaint, including all allegations and issues raised in the attachments,” the tribunal said.

The Tribunal, after considering the arguments and reviewing the relevant documentation, exercised its discretion under the Statutory Powers and Procedures Act and the Tribunal’s Rules of Procedure to prevent an abuse of process. The Tribunal found that the application constituted an abuse of process and dismissed it on that basis.

“It is unfair to the respondent for the applicant to come to the Tribunal and ask for $145,000 over and above the $4,000 he was paid under the minutes of settlement,” it said.

For more information see Frank v. 2295800 Ontario Inc. oa Ashley Furniture Homestore, 2023 HRTO 912 (CanLII)