Case In Point
Supreme Court of Canada to Consider Jurisdictional Issue Involving Human Rights Complaint Arising in Unionized Workplace
Date: March 9, 2020
On February 27, 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada granted leave to appeal from a decision of the Manitoba Court of Appeal, Northern Regional Health Authority v Manitoba Human Rights Commission et al, that found a human rights adjudicator had jurisdiction to hear complaints of discrimination where the workplace was governed by a collective agreement. The decision of the Supreme Court may have significant implications for employers dealing with human rights issues in a unionized setting.
The grievor (Ms H) was a unionized healthcare worker with the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA). The NRHA terminated her employment after she was discovered to be intoxicated at work. The NRHA and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 8600, entered into a settlement which returned Ms H to work, subject to certain conditions that included total abstinence from alcohol. The NRHA then terminated Ms H’s employment a second time after it discovered she had been intoxicated and accordingly in breach of the settlement. The union did not file a grievance for the second termination.
Ms H filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission alleging that the NRHA discriminated against her on the basis of her disability (alcohol addiction).
The Human Rights Commission Decision
The NRHA argued that the human rights adjudicator (Chief Adjudicator) had no jurisdiction to hear the complaint, as it was properly within the jurisdiction of a labour arbitrator. The Chief Adjudicator dismissed the jurisdictional objection, finding that the essential nature of the dispute arose from the alleged violation of Ms H’s human rights, and not out of the operation of the collective agreement. The Chief Adjudicator ultimately found that the NRHA had discriminated against Ms H by terminating her employment “because of a disability.”
…on judicial review
The NRHA sought judicial review of the Chief Adjudicator’s decision. The reviewing judge upheld the application for judicial review and concluded that the essential character of the dispute was whether there was just cause to terminate the employment of Ms H, which was a matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of a labour arbitrator.
…at the Manitoba Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal granted an appeal brought by the Commission and concluded that the reviewing judge erred in overturning the Chief Adjudicator’s decision. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Chief Adjudicator that the central nature of the dispute was the accommodation of Ms H, and therefore within the statutory scheme of the Manitoba Human Rights Code.
…the Supreme Court of Canada to hear appeal
The Supreme Court of Canada granted leave to appeal from the decision of the Manitoba Court of Appeal on February 27, 2020. As noted above, the decision of the Supreme Court may have significant implications for human rights claims involving employment relationships governed by a collective agreement. Stay tuned.
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