A May 2015 British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal awarded $15,000 in damages for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect to a former employee who alleged hurtful, frequent and unprovoked comments by his employer, in front of customers and co-workers, that left him feeling “very depressed and suicidal.”
Kyle Garneau suffered from a birth defect that affected him both mentally and physically and also manifested in his physical appearance and weight. He disclosed this disability to the employer when it assumed ownership of the store in 2008. Garneau had worked at the store since 2001. He was also gay, but was not public about his sexuality. He testified that the new owners called him “faggot,” “idiot,” “retard,” “f---ing stupid,” “fatty” and that he was harassed and constantly asked “are you gay, are you gay, are you gay?” In addition, Garneau testified that he was physically assaulted by another employee, and had personal property damaged and stolen.
The tribunal found that Garneau established that he had both a mental and physical disability and the employer as aware of this. Garneau also established that the employer perceived him to be gay, the tribunal said.
“I accept Mr. Garneau’s testimony that he was bullied, harassed, assaulted, and discriminated against by the (owners) and find that such treatment had significant deleterious effects. His self-esteem was affected; he testified to feeling depressed and suicidal; he found the constant name-calling, in front of customers and co-workers, hurtful and offensive. These slurs, exacerbated by the physical assaults and threats, had a profound impact; it made him powerless and, as he testified, to feel less than human. His repeated requests to the (owners) to desist was mocked and ignored; they were apparently oblivious, willfully ignorant, and/or indifferent to the impact of their behaviour upon Mr. Garneau,” said the tribunal.
The tribunal found that in all instances – mental disability, physical disability, and sexual orientation – Garneau’s characteristics weree protected from discrimination but the owners “had little regard for Mr. Garneau and undoubtedly saw him as someone who could be mistreated with impunity.” This treatment affected Garneau “profoundly and adversely,” said the tribunal.
What does this mean for employers?
The nature of the harassment in this case went “beyond the pale” and was “egregious.” The decision is a serious reminder to all employers that workplace harassment based on human rights protected characteristics is not acceptable. Employers must have policies and training in place to ensure that all parties in the workplace understand human rights and what types of behaviour is unacceptable at the workplace.
For more information see:
· Garneau v. Buy-Rite Foods, 2015 CarswellBC 1213 (B.C. Human Rights Trib.).
Lisa Gallivan is a partner with Stewart McKelvey in Halifax practising labour and employment law. She can be reached at (902) 420-3392 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Alison Strachan is an associate at Stewart McKelvey in Halifax, also practising labour and employment law. She can be reached at (902) 420-3387.