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Condo superintendent in Kingston, Ont., who signed release barred from human rights claim: Tribunal

by HR Law Canada

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has dismissed a discrimination application filed by a former condo superintendent against Frontenac Condominium Corporation #12 (FCC) and related parties, ruling that her claims were barred by a release agreement she signed upon leaving her job.

The decision underscores the legal weight of release agreements in employment disputes, even when allegations of discrimination and harassment are involved.

K.S., a former superintendent for the FCC in Kingston, Ont., had alleged discrimination on the basis of disability and sex, including sexual harassment and pregnancy. However, the Tribunal found that her application was covered by a release she signed in November 2020, following her departure from FCC.

The Tribunal’s ruling details a series of email exchanges between K.S. and the FCC, beginning on Oct. 26, 2020, when she sought to terminate her employment, citing a desire to “move forward with my life.” She requested severance pay, highlighting her service to the condominium board.

On Oct, 29, 2020, the FCC responded with an offer of $6,000 in exchange for a signed release. K.S. did not respond by the deadline and instead, after relocating to Belleville, Ont., inquired if the offer was still open. This led to a second offer of $4,300, which she rejected as a “slap in the face.” She then proposed a counteroffer of $8,000 after consulting her lawyer, which the FCC did not accept.

A third offer, again for $4,300, was made on Nov. 13, 2020. K.S. promptly agreed, asking, “when can I sign?” The release was executed on Nov.16, 2020, with K.S. receiving the agreed-upon sum.

The Tribunal’s decision hinged on the clarity and specificity of the release agreement, which stated that she was aware of her rights under the Human Rights Code and that the respondents had complied with the Code regarding her employment and its termination. K.S. argued she was under emotional duress when she signed the release, but the Tribunal found no evidence of such duress sufficient to invalidate the agreement.

The tribual noted that “the threshold to establish duress, in the legal sense, is high,” citing case law that requires proof of pressure that “the law regards as illegitimate.” The Tribunal concluded that K.S. initiated the negotiations and had multiple opportunities to seek legal advice, undermining her claim of coercion.

The Tribunal also dismissed K.S.’s argument, raised during the hearing, that the release was unconscionable. It emphasized that she was employed and had the option to return to work from sick leave, but chose to leave voluntarily in exchange for payment, indicating that she was protecting her interests during the negotiations.

Citing previous decisions, the Tribunal reinforced that a release need not specify individual claims as long as it broadly covers all claims, which the release in this case did. The Tribunal referenced Perricone v. Fabco Plastics Wholesale and other cases to support this interpretation.

Ultimately, the Tribunal found that allowing the application to proceed would constitute an abuse of process, given the binding nature of the signed release. “There is a strong public interest in ensuring that when parties freely choose to resolve the substance of a human rights dispute, the matter is at an end,” it said.

The Tribunal did not address additional issues of whether another proceeding had appropriately dealt with the substance of her application or if there was a delay in filing the application, deeming these unnecessary given the dismissal based on the release agreement.

For more information, see Shannik v. Frontenac Condominium Corporation #12, 2024 HRTO 833 (CanLII).

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