Home Featured B.C. worker who claimed company president called him ‘old as dirt’ before termination has human rights claim dismissed

B.C. worker who claimed company president called him ‘old as dirt’ before termination has human rights claim dismissed

by HR Law Canada

A 70-year-old worker who claimed he was fired because of his age after the president of his company allegedly said he was “old as dirt” and “ought to be retiring anyway” has had his human rights claim dismissed.

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal dismissed J.W.’s complaint alleging age discrimination by his former employer, Polynova Industries. J.W. claimed his employment was terminated due to his age, following a 15-year tenure with the company.

Earlier court ruling

The tribunal’s decision was significantly influenced by a previous ruling from the BC Supreme Court, which found J.W. had been wrongfully dismissed without reasonable notice, awarding him 15 months’ wages. However, the court rejected his claims that Polynova had acted in bad faith or dishonestly, particularly focusing on the absence of evidence supporting the alleged ageist remarks by the company’s president.

The human rights complaint centered around accusations that the president of Polynova had laid him off for being “too old,” purportedly describing his age as “old as dirt” and suggesting he “ought to be retiring anyways.” The tribunal, however, pointed out that the BC Supreme Court had already determined that these comments were not made, influencing the tribunal’s stance that J.W.’s dismissal wasn’t connected to his age.

The tribunal’s decision underscored the importance of finality in legal proceedings, citing principles from several significant Canadian Supreme Court decisions. It emphasized that re-litigating issues already settled in court undermines the integrity of the legal system and leads to an unnecessary expenditure of resources.

Employer points to unexplained absence as reason for termination

Polynova defended its position by stating that the termination resulted from an extended, unexplained absence, during which they trained another employee to cover his duties. They argued that there was no evidence suggesting age played any role in this decision.

The tribunal found J.W.’s additional evidence, including a conversation about retirement and a reduction in work hours prior to his leave, insufficient to establish a connection to age discrimination.

In reviewing the circumstances, the tribunal concluded that even if the disputed conversation about his age took place, there was no direct link to his eventual termination. Additionally, the fact that J.W. was replaced by a younger worker did not automatically indicate age discrimination, especially considering the context of his extended leave.

No communication during absence

The ruling highlighted that J.W. had not communicated with Polynova during his absence from March to June 2020, which was initiated by J.W. himself without any prompting from the company. Moreover, the company had even offered to reinstate him in July 2020, an offer he declined.

For more information, see Wong v. Polynova Industries, 2024 BCHRT 70 (CanLII).

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