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Human rights commission orders employer to pay $40,000 for terminating long-tenured worker with disability, citing ‘injury to dignity’

by HR Law Canada

A worker who was fired after nearly 40 years on the job, who alleged discrimination due to a physical disability, has been awarded $40,000 by the Alberta Human Rights Commission for injury to dignity.

GP, who had been with West Coast Reduction since August 1980, was terminated in April 2020 following a series of health-related absences and accommodations.

West Coast Reduction provides “environmentally friendly recycling solutions for the agriculture industry,” according to its website.

GP’s case, initiated on Jan. 7, 2021, claimed that his employer failed to accommodate his physical disability, violating section 7 of the Alberta Human Rights Act. He detailed a history of varied roles within the company, including receiving, skinning cattle, working in air pollution control, and roles in maintenance. His most recent position was as a ticket millwright and welder.

His health issues began with back problems in March 2017, leading to short-term disability (STD) leave and subsequent accommodations at work. Despite modified shifts and duties, GP’s physical challenges were exacerbated by a slip and fall in early 2018, resulting in a knee injury.

This led to a long-term disability leave, culminating in his position being terminated in April 2020 by his employer, who cited an inability to accommodate his return to work.

GP argued that his employer did not fully explore accommodations for his disability, particularly given his extensive work experience. He noted that after his termination, West Coast Reduction hired externally for roles he could have fulfilled. The Commission’s ruling agreed with GP, finding the employer guilty of discrimination.

The case also involved a preliminary application concerning a settlement agreement between GP and his long-term disability insurer, Canada Life. The employer sought to access this settlement, claiming its relevance to GP’s human rights complaint. However, the Tribunal ultimately ruled that the details of the settlement were pertinent only to the remedy GP might be entitled to, not to the merit of the complaint itself.

In its analysis, the Commission applied the Meiorin test, which examines if an employer’s standard is necessary for job performance and if accommodations could be made without undue hardship. The ruling found that the employer did not meet this standard, failing to adequately consider GP’s long service and potential for modified duties.

“The complainant wanted to be back to work at the respondent. The complainant was willing to come back to work if his duties were re-bundled to accommodate his restrictions,” the commission said.

“There is no evidence of the steps taken by the respondent to re-bundle any of the duties that the complainant could perform. Instead, the respondent terminated the respondent’s employment once the respondent realized that the complainant’s LTD had been terminated and that the complainant’s appeal had also been denied.”

As a remedy, the Tribunal ordered the employer to pay GP $40,000 in general damages for injury to dignity, emphasizing the need for awards that reflect the serious nature of discrimination and its impact on individuals.

“In my opinion, the discrimination in this case is severe, when one looks at the length of the complainant’s employment and the circumstances in which he lost that employment. It is important to note, like I already indicated, that they could have re-bundled different tasks for create a position that could accommodate the complainant’s disability, but there was no evidence that the respondent did that,” the commission said in the ruling.

It declined to award lost wages, as GP had been compensated for lost wages via his settlement with Canada Life.

For more information, see Pratt v West Coast Reduction Ltd. (Head Office), 2023 AHRC 97 (CanLII)

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