The seminal cases dealing with discrimination based on family status more often than not address the issue of caregiving. See: Family status: Recent interpretation under the Human Rights Code. See: Employee not discriminated against as breastfeeding a “choice”- Federal Court of Appeal Decision. In the recent case, Knox-Heldmann v. 1818224 Ontario Limited o/a Country Style Donut, the Tribunal demonstrates that discrimination based on family status is not restricted to caregiving.
The applicant, Connie Knox-Heldmann, a married woman, filed an application at the Human Rights Tribunal that included, among other things, allegations of discrimination based on family status and marital status.[i]
The applicant had been employed with Country Style Donut for approximately five years until November 2013 when she was terminated. The evidence suggests that the applicant was a hard worker and had eventually been promoted to management prior to her termination. [ii]
Shortly after being promoted to her management position, the applicant was asked by the personal respondent if she could wait to be paid so that other employees could get paid, as apparently the business was experiencing financial challenges. The applicant alleged that the personal respondent had said to the applicant that she could afford to wait because she had a husband who would provide for her.[iii] The applicant indicated that this happened at least four times from late 2011 to 2012, but that eventually she was paid her wages for the time worked.
In July of 2013, the applicant told the general manager that she would no longer accept late payment of her wages. The following day the applicant’s hours were reduced. When the applicant complained she was told, “If she wanted them she could have them. If she did not want them she could quit.”[iv]
The applicant’s responsibilities as manager were reduced as well as her hours. Due to difficulties at work, the applicant began to suffer from stress and anxiety. Although a medical practitioner suggested she request medical leave, the applicant was reluctant to do so, fearing it might lead to the loss of her job. In September of 2013, the applicant finally requested a one-month sick leave. The next day, during a staff meeting where the personal respondent mused about selling the business, she stated in front of everyone that she was not concerned about the applicant because she had a husband with a job.[v]
On November 11, 2013, the applicant was terminated in spite of the respondents having usually engaged in a policy of progressive discipline.
The Tribunal found that the applicant was treated differently because she was a married woman, who, in the words of the personal respondent, had a husband to take care of her. These comments and her being asked to delay taking her wages on a least four occasions is discrimination on the basis of family and marital status, as well as sex. [vi]
The applicant was awarded $15,000 as monetary compensation for the violation of her inherent right to be free from discrimination and for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect. Among other damages, the applicant was also awarded $22,180 as monetary compensation for lost income.
Knox-Heldmann v. 1818224 Ontario Limited o/a Country Style Donut underscores the interpretation of family status under the Code, and further suggests that words, as well as actions, could have dire financial consequences to the employer.
[i] Knox-Heldmann v. 1818224 Ontario Limited o/a Country Style Donut, Para. 3
[ii] Ibid., Para. 9
[iii] Ibid., Para. 11
[iv] Ibid., Para. 18
[v] Ibid., Para. 24
[vi] Ibid., Para. 41