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‘Adjudicative immunity’: Tribunal dismisses discrimination claim against Employment Standards Officer in Ontario

by HR Law Canada

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) has dismissed an application alleging discrimination by an Employment Standards Officer (ESO) in a decision that reaffirms the doctrine of judicial or adjudicative immunity.

The ruling underscores the Tribunal’s limited jurisdiction over claims against quasi-judicial decision-makers.

The applicant had claimed that the ESO discriminated against him during an interview related to a complaint filed with the Ministry of Labour (MoL) concerning his business. The allegations included inappropriate questioning about his age and a failure to accommodate his request to have his lawyer present. Additionally, the applicant asserted that the findings in the ESO’s report were presented in a manner that revealed his disability.

However, the Tribunal determined that the application fell outside its jurisdiction due to the principles of judicial immunity that protect quasi-judicial decision-makers from being sued for actions performed within their official capacities. In its ruling, the Tribunal highlighted that “an adjudicative body either has jurisdiction or it does not,” referencing the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling in G.L. v. OHIP (General Manager), 2014 ONSC 5392.

The applicant had responded to a Case Assessment Direction (CAD) issued by the Tribunal, which initially indicated that the complaint might not fall within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. Despite the applicant’s submissions arguing otherwise, the Tribunal maintained its stance, citing the doctrine of judicial immunity extensively discussed in Taucar v. University of Western Ontario (2013), and upheld in Taucar v. Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (2014).

The Tribunal emphasized the rationale behind this immunity, noting that quasi-judicial decision-makers, much like judges, play a critical role in the administrative justice system and must remain impartial and independent. The decision further stated that allowing such complaints to proceed could lead to collateral attacks on decisions that should be reviewed through proper channels of judicial review or appeal.

“The Tribunal has held that the doctrine of judicial immunity applies to quasi-judicial decision-makers who are charged with making independent and impartial decisions in respect of a specific statute,” the Tribunal said. This immunity ensures that adjudicative decisions are reviewed appropriately, rather than litigated against the decision-makers themselves.

The Tribunal also noted that the applicant had already appealed the ESO’s decision to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (LRB), which upheld the original order after a full hearing.

In concluding, the Tribunal found that Employment Standards Officers operate in a quasi-judicial capacity under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), and thus, are entitled to adjudicative immunity. The application, therefore, was dismissed as outside the Tribunal’s jurisdiction.

Key takeaways

  1. Doctrine of Judicial Immunity: The ruling reaffirms the application of judicial immunity to quasi-judicial decision-makers, ensuring their independence and protecting them from litigation for actions within their official duties.
  2. Tribunal’s Limited Jurisdiction: The HRTO does not have jurisdiction to hear applications against adjudicative bodies for actions performed in their adjudicative capacities.
  3. Proper Channels for Review: The decision emphasizes that complaints about adjudicative decisions should be addressed through judicial review or appeal, not through new legal proceedings against the decision-makers.

For more information, see Freedland v. Kocovski, 2024 HRTO 659 (CanLII).

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