Home Featured Suncor Energy discriminated against employee with mental disability: Tribunal

Suncor Energy discriminated against employee with mental disability: Tribunal

by HR Law Canada

The Alberta Human Rights Tribunal has ruled in favour of a former employee of Suncor Energy Inc., in a case of discrimination based on mental disability.

The decision found that Suncor failed to properly accommodate her return to work after her disability leave, ultimately terminating her employment under circumstances that the Tribunal found discriminatory.

Complicated return to work

E.S.’s employment with Suncor began in April 2009, and she held various roles during her tenure. Things started to change after she returned from her second maternity leave in April 2018 and soon after took another leave due to a mental disability.

Following a period of medical treatment, E.S.’s doctors cleared her to return to work in September 2019 with specific accommodations. However, Suncor did not agree to the return-to-work plan recommended by her medical professionals.

Instead, Suncor proposed an alternative plan that ultimately failed to accommodate her needs adequately. The Tribunal found that Suncor was not genuinely engaging in the accommodation process, a key requirement under the Alberta Human Rights Act. The situation escalated when Suncor informed E.S. in October 2019 that no position was available for her, leading to her termination.

Tribunal’s findings

The Tribunal’s decision highlighted several critical points in its analysis. The Tribunal accepted E.S.’s evidence and found significant credibility issues with the testimonies provided by Suncor’s witnesses. The Tribunal noted inconsistencies in the reasoning behind her job termination, especially in light of the email from her former manager which suggested that her position had been effectively eliminated long before the official termination.

The Tribunal applied the test established in Moore v British Columbia (Education), requiring E.S. to demonstrate that her mental disability was a factor in the adverse impact she experienced — namely, the termination of her employment and the cessation of her disability benefits.

The Tribunal concluded that E.S. had indeed faced discrimination due to her mental disability, though it did not find sufficient evidence to support her claim of discrimination based on pregnancy.

Accommodation and remedies

The Tribunal emphasized the duty of employers to accommodate employees with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship, a duty Suncor failed to fulfill. The Tribunal found that Suncor had not genuinely engaged in the accommodation process, which requires flexibility and cooperation between the employer and the employee.

In terms of remedies, the Tribunal awarded E.S. $40,000 in general damages for injury to dignity and self-respect, recognizing the significant emotional and financial impact of the discriminatory actions.

Additionally, the Tribunal ordered Suncor to pay $39,533, representing 50% of her annual base salary, along with amounts corresponding to her annual bonus, pension contributions, and out-of-pocket expenses incurred due to the termination of her benefits. (Those amounts were not spelled out in the ruling.)

For more information, see Silliker v Suncor Energy Inc., 2024 AHRC 91 (CanLII).

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