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Escalating damage awards for employees at the HRTO

Recent trends show that employees are receiving higher damage awards for discrimination in employment.

damage awardsThe Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) prohibits discrimination in five areas, including employment. An employee who successfully establishes a violation of the Code at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (“HRTO”) may be entitled to reinstatement and back pay, an award of general damages for “injury to dignity, feelings and self-esteem,” or both.

In the past, there was a limit to the amount of damages that could be recovered at the HRTO and awards tended to be low. However, recent trends demonstrate that employees are receiving higher awards of damages than ever before. For instance, in the 2013 decision of Fair v. Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, the Tribunal awarded an employee with reinstatement, $420,000 in back pay and $30,000 in general damages after finding that the respondent had discriminated her on the basis of disability by failing to accommodate her and then terminating her employment.

Then, in the 2015 decision of O.P.T. and M.P.T. v. Presteve Foods Ltd. et al., the Tribunal awarded two employees with general damages in the amount of $150,000.00 and $50,000.00, respectively. The Tribunal held that the applicants, who were temporary foreign workers, were subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace and a sexually poisoned work environment. It was held that the “unprecedented seriousness of the respondent’s conduct” justified such high awards.

And just this year, the Tribunal granted the highest award of general damages in history in what was described as a “he said, she said case.” In the decision of A.B. v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited, the Tribunal held that the applicant was subject to sexual harassment, solicitation and a poisoned work environment by the respondent, who was both her employer and her landlord. The applicant was granted $200,000 in general damages on account of the seriousness and duration of the conduct and her vulnerability as an immigrant who simply could not escape the abuse.

Evidently, there is an increasing willingness on the part of the HRTO to grant significant monetary awards to discriminated employees. However, it seems that an employer’s conduct must be of a particularly egregious nature to warrant such a significant award.

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De Bousquet PC Barristers and Solicitors

Civil Litigation Lawyers at De Bousquet PC Barristers and Solicitors
De Bousquet law offers experienced counsel and representation in multiple aspects of employment law, labour relations, commercial law and civil litigation. Jean-Alexandre De Bousquet, founder of the firm, interned for the Canadian Centre for International Justice, worked for an Ottawa law firm and pursued a career with the Attorney General of Ontario. In 2014, Jean-Alexandre was named one of Ontario's "leading experts" in human rights law by Legal Action Magazine. Jean-Alexandre handles cases related to wrongful dismissal, workplace discrimination, breach of contract, fraud and commercial disputes. Jean-Alexandre is fully fluent in French and English and represents clients before courts and tribunals using both official languages.Before the practice of law, Jean-Alexandre was a journalist at the CBC for 3 years. Other notable achievements include employment with the Canada Research Chair on Native Peoples and Legal Diversity, the Canadian Research Chair on Metis Identity and the Urban League, a U.S. civil rights organization. Jean-Alexandre has also published articles in prominent academic journals and presented papers at international conferences in Canada and the U.S.Read more here
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