Employers have a duty to provide their employees with a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. This includes a positive duty for employers to provide their employees with necessary training and information regarding harassment policies, investigate bona fide complaints, and to provide affected employees with appropriate redress.
An employer’s failure to meet this duty may not only affect employee morale, it may also result in significant liability.
Francis v BC Ministry of Justice (No 5), 2021 BCHRT 16
The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal recently resolved Francis v BC Ministry of Justice. Mr. Francis was employed by the Ministry of Justice as a correctional officer starting in 2000. In 2012, Mr. Francis accepted a position in Centre Control at North Fraser Pretrial Centre.
During his employment in this role, the Tribunal found that Mr. Francis was denigrated and harassed on the basis of his skin colour by colleagues and supervisors on a daily basis. When Mr. Francis reported the harassment and discrimination, he was further subjected to discrimination and was treated as though he was making a big deal out of something trivial. Mr. Francis filed a human rights complaint in October 2012. Upon filing the complaint, Mr. Francis was labelled a “rat” and was advised that a target had been placed on his back. By July 2013, he resigned his employment due to his deteriorating mental and physical health as a result of the treatment he received at work.
Calculation of Damages
In calculating Mr. Francis’ damages, the Tribunal considered that he had been found totally disabled from working in any occupation as a result of the severe consequences to his mental and physical health that resulted from his employment in Centre Control. The Tribunal considered expert evidence and an appropriate reduction for contingencies to determine that Mr. Francis’ past wage loss amounted to $264,060; his loss of pension was valued at $65,881; and his future wage loss amounted to $431,601.
Mr. Francis sought an additional $220,000.00 for the injury he sustained to his dignity, feelings, and self-respect. The Respondent submitted that an award between $20,000.00 and $35,000.00 was more appropriate.
In awarding Mr. Francis with $176,000.00 for the injury sustained to his dignity, feelings, and self-respect, the Tribunal considered:
- the nature of the discrimination found;
- the time period and frequency of the discrimination;
- the vulnerability of the complainant;
- the impact of the discrimination upon the complainant; and
- the totality of the relationship between the parties.
Notably, the Tribunal stated that the purpose of an award of injury to dignity is not to compensate the complainant for injuries that were reasonably foreseeable at the time of the discrimination; rather the purpose is to compensate the complainant for the actual harm they have suffered as a result of the discrimination.
The $176,000.00 award given to Mr. Francis is the highest amount awarded by the BC Human Rights Tribunal to date.
If you have questions about harassment, discrimination, or the employer’s duty to provide a safe work environment, one of our employment lawyers can help you learn more about your rights or obligations.