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Court of Appeal overturns finding that respondent must admit discrimination to settle a human rights complaint

court-rulesUnder the Nova Scotia Human Rights framework, a Board of Inquiry must approve any settlement reached after a complaint is referred to a hearing before the Board. Recently, in Nova Scotia (Human Rights Commission) v Grant, 2016 NSCA 37, a Board of Inquiry refused to approve a settlement. The Board concluded that it could not approve a settlement unless the respondent admitted discrimination. As the respondent in this matter had not made such an admission, the Board refused to grant the necessary approval—barring a settlement that the parties were willing to accept.

The Board’s conclusion that an admission of discrimination was a required element of a settlement departed from past practice in Nova Scotia, and the Human Rights Commission appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal held that the Board’s interpretation of the law was wrong and that an admission was not necessary in order for the Board to endorse the settlement. The Court went further, stating that the fact that a settlement has been concluded will in and of itself be seen to be in the public interest because “parties, whatever the forum, are always better off if their disputes can be settled short of formal hearings”. (para 13) The Court stated that insisting on an admission represents a major stumbling block to securing a settlement and that the Human Rights Act allows for settlement without an admission of discrimination.

The requirement that a respondent admit discrimination could have posed a significant barrier to settlements as most respondents would be reticent to admit that they violated the Human Rights Act. The Court of Appeal’s decision should be reassuring to parties in Nova Scotia Human Rights proceedings that a mutually agreed-upon settlement will not be subject to this potentially onerous requirement.

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Alison J. Bird

Employment Lawyer at Cox & Palmer
Alison Bird is a lawyer practicing in Halifax with the Atlantic regional law firm, Cox & Palmer. Alison is growing her practice in the areas of labour & employment law and litigation. Alison is a frequent presenter on employment law topics and recently presented on the challenges being faced by employers dealing with changing demographics in the workplace. Read more
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