Discriminating in Employment on the Basis of Sexual Orientation

Jul 22, 2014

Ontario, Canada is one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the world when it comes to acknowledging the rights of individuals on the basis of sexual orientation. Over ten years ago, Canada celebrated its first gay marriage in Ontario. It was one of the first jurisdictions in the world to permit same sex marriages.

The Law

Let’s look at things more closely. The Ontario Human Rights Code specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. It also prohibits harassment that occurs because of these personal characteristics.

Despite Ontario laws and court decisions expanding rights in this area, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees continue to face discrimination in the workplace.

In some cases, a supervisor (or co-worker) taunts and discriminates against an employee because of his or her sexual orientation. In other cases, the organization terminates a person when a person’s sexual orientation becomes known.

Examples of Discrimination

One form of discrimination is directing lewd or demeaning remarks towards an employee. In one case, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal heard a case where an employee was subjected to the following harassment: “The conduct escalated to the frequent use of derogatory comments such as “freak”, “faggot”, and “fag” and the complainant was openly accused of wanting to molest children.” As a result the Tribunal ordered the employer to pay the employee damages.

In another case, a religious organization terminated a support worker when it found out she was a lesbian. It claimed a heterosexual only policy was a bona fide qualification of her job because of the nature of her employment. The Tribunal disagreed and awarded her damages.

What is an Employer to Do

  1. We recommend that almost all employers introduce a human rights policy that prohibits discrimination and that this policy have a complaint procedure.
  2. We recommend that senior management sign off on this policy to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to it.
  3. We recommend that all front line supervisors receive human rights sensitivity training.

For more human rights blogs, click here

For the past 25 years, Doug MacLeod of the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising and representing employers in connection with human rights issues. If you have any questions, you can contact him at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]

There are many ways to attack the termination clause in an employment contract. 

I am now surprised if employee counsel does not claim that their client’s  termination clause is not legally enforceable - usually because the termination clause does not allegedly comply with the Employment Standards Act.

This blog considers a case, McKercher v Stantec Architecture Ltd., 2019 SKQB 100, where an employee successfully attacked the termination clause in his contract because he did not explicitly agree to it after being promoted. 

The Facts

In 2006, Mr. McKercher commenced employment as a staff architect. The termination clause in his employment contract stated: 

Termination other than for cause will be with notice or pay in lieu of notice, based on your length of service. If the Employer terminates your employment for other than just cause you will receive the greater of:

  1. a)   Two weeks notice or pay in lieu of notice during the first two years of employment increasing by one week for each additional completed year of employment to a maximum of three months notice or pay in lieu of notice.

      or

  1. b)   The minimum notice of termination (or pay in lieu of notice) required by applicable statutes.

Eleven years later, when Mr. McKercher was employed as a Business Centre Sector Leader, his employment was terminated. The employer paid him the three months termination pay he was owed under his employment contract.

 

Another way to attack a termination clause: What is the changed substratum doctrine?

An Ontario judge in a 2012 case, MacGregor v National Home Services, 2012 ONSC 2042 (CanLII), described this legal doctrine as follows: "The changed substratum doctrine … provides that if an employee enters into an employment contract that specifies the notice period for a dismissal, the contractual notice period is not enforceable if over the course of employment, the important terms of the agreement concerning the employee’s responsibilities and status has significantly changed."

 

The rationale for this doctrine has been described by one judge, Schmidt v AMEC Earth & Environmental Ltd., 2004 BSCS 2012 (CanLII), as follows: "In my view, it was incumbent on the defendants to advise Mr. Schmidt that they intended to continue to rely upon the termination provision set out in the Agreement when substantial changes in his employment occurred. This would have allowed him to consider the matter and to negotiate for other terms. If the defendants wished to continue to rely on the termination provisions there ought to have been a ratification of the provisions as the nature of Mr. Schmidt’s employment changed."

 

Decision

The judge hearing this case relied on the following factors when deciding not to enforce the termination clause in the employment contract: ”...there is no evidence that (the employer) made it clear to the (employee) that the notice of termination provisions were intended to apply to the positions to which he was promoted. The employment agreement contains no express wording to this effect, nor does it contain any wording to support the inference of such an intent. Further, and in keeping with the analysis in Schmidt, the Court received no evidence that, as it promoted the plaintiff, SAL reasserted its understanding and expectation that the notice of termination limit would remain in effect.”

 

Lesson to be learned:

An employer should make it clear that the termination clause in an employment contract applies when an employee is promoted. This expression of this intent should be in writing and should be clear and unambiguous. I recommend that an organization’s employment be reviewed by an employment lawyer every year or two. If your employment contract does not address this issue then think about doing so the next time it is reviewed.

 

For 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]

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

 

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