City worker awarded $40,000 for discrimination

City of St. John’s, Nfld., and CUPE imposed special rules on man with bipolar disorder

The City of St. John’s, Nfld., and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) discriminated against a former city worker when they imposed rules on him which other employees were not subject to, according to a ruling by the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission.

Sean Ryan worked as a labourer for the city for 14 years until he was fired in 1998 for causing problems at work. The city claimed he was often “irritable, argumentative and hostile.” Ryan has bipolar disorder.

When he was diagnosed with the disorder, Ryan was required to see a psychiatrist regularly and take periodic blood tests to ensure he was taking his medication. When problems arose at work from his attitude, his supervisors suspected he wasn’t taking his medication and terminated him.

Ryan grieved the termination and won his job back, but the city and CUPE imposed new rules which he had to follow in order to keep his job. Ryan tried to comply with the requirements but eventually quit.

The commission found imposing special rules for Ryan was discrimination based on his bipolar condition. It said by treating him differently from other employees who didn’t have mental disabilities, both the city and the union violated his human rights.

The commission ordered the city and CUPE to each pay Ryan $20,000 in damages.

“I hope that it sends a signal to other employers that you really do have to work within the confines of the law and the human rights code on issues like this,” Geoff Chaulk of the Canadian Mental Health Association told CBC.

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