The Ontario Court of Appeal has upheld the decision of the Ontario Human Rights Commission to dismiss a complaint on the basis that the complainant refused a reasonable settlement offer.
The complainant, an eight-year employee of a newspaper publisher, was forced to abandon his post in the pressroom and move into a desk job due to a non-work related knee injury. Shortly thereafter, the injury prevented him from climbing the stairs to the employer’s second floor office. The employer attempted to accommodate his disability, be he was unsatisfied about the extent of the accommodation. He therefore filed a complaint with the Commission alleging discrimination on the basis of his disability.
In the course of its investigation, the Commission learned that the employer had attempted to settle the matter by offering the complainant a settlement package. The Commission found the offer to be reasonable in that it reflected the award the complainant likely would receive if he was successful in a hearing before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. The Commission therefore informed the complainant that the complaint would not be referred to the Tribunal for a hearing.
The employee insisted on a hearing and sought judicial review of the Commission’s decision before the Ontario Divisional Court, which upheld the Commission’s decision.
The complainant appealed further to the Court of Appeal which also upheld the Commission’s decision. The Court observed that the Commission’s mandate is to encourage settlement and act as a gatekeeper for complaints. While the Court agreed that complainants should not be coerced into accepting unfair settlement offers, it also held that the Code should not be interpreted in a way that encourages parties to take obstinate and unreasonable positions.
In British Columbia, the Human Rights Code provides for dismissal of a complaint without a hearing if proceeding with the complaint would not further the purposes of the Code. In interpreting this section, the B.C. Supreme Court has held that the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal may consider whether a reasonable settlement offer has been made in deciding whether to hear a complaint.