A 23 year old woman was born with a physical disability. As a result, she uses forearm crutches to mobilize which helps her with stability.
One day she planned to meet some friends at a restaurant. When she arrived, she asked a server to use the washroom which was located downstairs.
Unbeknownst to her, earlier a heavily intoxicated customer of the restaurant had fallen down the same stairs to the washroom and sustained life altering injuries becoming a quadriplegic.
The server refused the customer’s request stating that she did not want to be held liable if the customer fell down the stairs while making her way down to the washroom.
Not knowing what to do, the applicant went outside. A short while later she returned to the restaurant and again asked to use the washroom.
At this point, the server announced to everyone in the restaurant in a loud voice that they would be witness to the fact that the customer was advised not to use the restroom and that the customer had indicated that the server would not be held liable should anything happen while descending the stairs. The customer used the washroom without incident.
The customer filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “Tribunal”) claiming a violation of section 1 of the Human Rights Code which states, in part: “Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of … disability.
No one from the restaurant showed up to the hearing, and the Tribunal ordered the restaurant, among other things, to pay their disabled customer $10,000 in general damages.
Lessons to be Learned
- All customer facing employees should be trained on the rights of disabled customers. These employees should not refuse requests from disabled customers before first speaking with their manager.
- If you receive an application from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario you should file a response and ask for a mediation.
- Most human rights applications are settled at mediation. The cost to file a response and settle at mediation can be much less than not responding to an application and having the Tribunal order your organization to pay damages. An experienced human rights lawyer can give you a quick assessment of your legal exposure and the cost to defend an application to the end of a mediation so you can quickly do a cost/benefit analysis.
For over 30 years, Doug MacLeod of the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions, you can contact him at 416-317-9894 or at [email protected]