B.C. court allows worker with MS to challenge release agreement amidst discrimination claims

A doctor examining MRI images of a patient with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Photo: Africa Images/Canva

A court in British Columbia has decided to let a worker’s human rights complaint against his previous employer move forward, even though he had signed a release preventing further legal action and received four months’ salary in return for his agreement.

The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) sought to enforce the release agreement against TB, a computer programmer who was terminated in November 2020, and petitioned the Supreme Court of British Columbia to dismiss the claim.

The release stated that TB would discharge PHSA from any claims arising from his employment or its termination. In exchange for the agreement, PHSA offered him a severance payment, which he accepted.

Worker said his MS affected his mental abilities

However, months after accepting the settlement, TB filed a complaint against PHSA, alleging disability discrimination and a failure to accommodate his condition.

The worker, who has Multiple Sclerosis (MS), argued that his condition affected his mental abilities, a revelation he claimed to understand only after undergoing tests in January 2021. According to medical reports, his mental impairments were severe, making future employment nearly impossible.

In its defense, PHSA pointed to the release signed by TB, asserting it barred him from bringing forth the complaint. However, the court recognized the complexities of the case, especially given that TB’s disability— the focal point of his human rights complaint — might impact the fairness of the release itself.

Report from neurologist

Adding weight to his case, a report by Dr. Virginia Devonshire, a neurologist who had been treating him since 2011, highlighted TB’s cognitive challenges. Dr. Devonshire mentioned that these cognitive problems would significantly intensify under stress, leading her to believe that TB might have had difficulty comprehending the release agreement when he signed it.

While the court acknowledged that the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has the jurisdiction to adjudicate on the issue, it emphasized that the tribunal’s expertise might be better suited to consider whether TB’s disability undermined the fairness of the release or rendered it unjust for PHSA to rely on it.

“The question of the enforceability of the release should more properly be left for the Tribunal to decide,” the court said.

With the court’s decision to dismiss PHSA’s petition, the case will now return to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal for further deliberation. Briggs has also been awarded costs as the successful party in this stage of the proceedings.

For more information, see Provincial Health Services Authority v Briggs, 2023 BCSC 1729 (CanLII)