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Human rights complaint involving offensive GIFs, memes at B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy paused

by HR Law Canada

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has granted a deferral application by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy in a discrimination case filed by a worker who alleged her colleagues shared offensive GIFs and memes, made derogatory comments, and created a hostile work environment.

The worker, ST, alleged discrimination in employment based on race, ancestry, and place of origin, under Section 13 of the Human Rights Code.

Despite her complaints to supervisors, ST alleges that appropriate actions were not taken to stop the harassment or discipline those involved.

The Ministry requested the deferral of the human rights complaint, citing an ongoing arbitration process under ST’s collective agreement, which covers similar allegations. The Tribunal, guided by Section 25 of the Code, has the discretion to defer a complaint if another proceeding can appropriately address its substance. The Tribunal considered several factors, including the nature of the ongoing arbitration, the adequacy of its remedies, and the status of both proceedings.

Key findings of the Tribunal included a significant overlap between the collective agreement complaints and the human rights complaint. The Tribunal noted that labour arbitrators have the jurisdiction to grant remedies similar to those under the Human Rights Code. Moreover, the arbitration is at a more advanced stage compared to the human rights process, which is still in its early stages.

The Tribunal emphasized the importance of avoiding duplication of proceedings and the unnecessary expenditure of resources. Given the advanced stage of the arbitration and the possibility that its outcome may resolve or narrow the scope of the human rights complaint, deferring the case was deemed fair and reasonable.

“The Collective Agreement Complaints are capable of dealing with the substance of the human rights complaint. Given that the Collective Agreement Complaints are at an advanced stage and that their resolution will likely either resolve or narrow the human rights complaint, in my view it is fair and reasonable in these circumstances to defer the complaint,” the Tribunal said.

The Tribunal’s decision to defer the complaint does not conclude ST’s allegations but pauses the human rights process until the arbitration panel delivers its decision or the arbitration process is otherwise resolved.

ST and the Ministry are required to inform the Tribunal once the arbitration reaches its conclusion.

For more information, see Tyler v. BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, 2024 BCHRT 1 (CanLII).

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