Unfortunately, discrimination and harassment in the workplace continues to occur. However, employees now have more avenues to assert their rights. In a recent case, another Ontario Superior Court judge applied the Ontario Human Rights Code (“the Code”) in a wrongful dismissal action involving severe mistreatment of an employee.
Ms. Strudwick had worked for her employer for 15 years. In 2010 she became deaf. Ms. Strudwick’s numerous requests for accommodation from her employer were vehemently denied. These accommodation requests included having instructions provided to her in writing, bringing a hearing dog to her workplace, altering the direction of her desk so that she may see her colleagues approaching, and installing TTY equipment and a visual fire alarm, both of which she agree to purchase.
Ms. Strudwick began experiencing “horrendous conduct” by her employer and its General Manager after she became deaf. Eventually, the treatment “became unconscionable.” She was “constantly belittled, humiliated and isolated.”
Ms. Strudwick’s mistreatment culminated in her termination after she chose not to participate during a voluntary work event involving group speeches. After the speech night, the General Manager yelled at Ms. Strudwick in front of her colleagues calling her a “goodamned fool” and then terminated her for insubordination and willful misconduct for failing to participate in the event.
The employer denied Ms. Strudwick any pay in lieu of notice when she would not sign a release, walked Ms. Strudwick out of the building in front of her co-workers, and then attempted to prevent her from receiving Employment Insurance.
The Court awarded Ms. Strudwick substantial wrongful dismissal damages as well as damages for discrimination and harassment under the Code, damages for intentional infliction of mental suffering, and punitive damages. In all, she was awarded $109,940.97 and $40,000 for legal costs.
The Code was amended in 2008 to allow a civil remedy in court for human rights violations. However, since that time there have been only a handful of decisions applying the Code. This decision highlights the court’s willingness to award multiple different damages for atrocious employer behaviour. It also confirms that the courts will look at the jurisprudence of the Human Rights Tribunal in assessing damages for breach of the Code.
If you have experienced harassment or discrimination at work and would like to speak with an employment lawyer, please contact us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.
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