Supreme Court broadens protection against workplace discrimination

Top court upholds tribunal decision that harassment from employee of different employer at same workplace is related to employment of victim
By Ronald Minken
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 02/14/2018

Can an employee claim workplace discrimination against an employee from another company? According to the recent Supreme Court of Canada case of British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal v. Schrenk, the answer, in some circumstances, is yes. In Schrenk, the top court found that s. 13(1)(b) of the British Columbia Human Rights Code, which prohibits discriminating against someone “regarding employment,” was not limited to protecting employees from their superiors in the workplace and employers, but, rather, the protection extends to all employees who “suffer discrimination with a sufficient connection to their employment context.”

The issue arose when Mohammadreza Sheikhzadeh-Mashgoul allegedly experienced discriminatory comments at work and subsequent emails based on his religion, place of origin, and sexual orientation by Edward Schrenk.

Sheikhzadeh-Mashgoul was a civil engineer working for Omega and Associates Engineering Ltd, who was hired to supervise a road improvement plan by the municipality of Delta in British Columbia. He was required to supervise the work of Clemas Contracting at a roadwork site, with whom Schrenk was a site foreman and superintendent. After experiencing a series of alleged discriminatory comments and emails from Schrenk, Sheikhzadeh-Mashgoul filed a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal against Schrenk, alleging employment discrimination based on religion, place of origin, and sexual orientation. Schrenk argued that since he was not in a position of economic authority over Sheikhzadeh-Mashgoul and didn't work for the same employer, it was not discrimination “regarding employment” and, therefore, outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal. The tribunal disagreed and found that Schrenk’s conduct was covered by the code even though he was not Sheikhzadeh-Mashgoul’s superior in the workplace or associated with his employer. Schrenk appealed this decision all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.