The British Columbia Court of Appeal has affirmed the B.C. Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to determine the existence of a settlement agreement in a case involving a human rights complaint.
This decision stems from a dispute between a former employee of the Provincial Health Services Authority and her manager. The employee, who had been with the Health Authority from January 2018 until July 2019, filed a human rights complaint alleging age discrimination.
Following an early settlement meeting, the mediator informed the Tribunal that a settlement was reached, expecting the complaint to be withdrawn. The agreement, which included a $13,000 payment for general damages and enhancement of the anti-harassment workplace policy, was sent to the appellant for review.
However, the appellant later sought to amend her complaint to include allegations of discrimination based on mental disability and ultimately declined to sign the settlement agreement.
The respondents then filed a petition with the B.C. Supreme Court seeking to enforce the settlement agreement. The appellant contested this, arguing that only the Human Rights Tribunal, not the Supreme Court, had the authority to determine the validity of a settlement agreement.
The chambers judge initially found in favor of the respondents, asserting the B.C. Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to decide on the existence of such agreements. This decision was challenged in the Court of Appeal, where the appellant cited principles from the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Vavilov, emphasizing the legislative intent for minimal judicial interference in matters typically within an administrative tribunal’s purview.
However, the Court of Appeal upheld the original decision. It reasoned that the B.C. Supreme Court’s role in enforcing settlement agreements implicitly includes the authority to determine their existence.
This interpretation aligns with the purposes of the Human Rights Code and ensures that disputes regarding settlement terms can be adequately resolved. The Court acknowledged the need for restraint in exercising this authority but emphasized the practical necessity of such powers to achieve the objectives of the legislation.
For more information, see Sayarri v. Provincial Health Services Authority, 2023 BCCA 413 (CanLII)