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SCC Denies Leave to Appeal in Mental Illness Case
April 1, 2016
Author(s): Jaime H. Hoopes

The Supreme Court of Canada recently refused to grant leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision upholding the termination of an employee for workplace violence despite an alleged mental disability.

In Bellehumeur v. Windsor Factory Supply Ltd., the employee was terminated for cause because he had uttered violent threats towards his fellow coworkers. Shortly after his termination, counsel for the employee sent a letter to the employer requesting reinstatement on the basis that the employee suffered from a mental disability. The employer maintained the dismissal. In response, the employee brought an action for wrongful dismissal alleging, among other things, that the employer had violated the Ontario Human Rights Code.

At trial, the Ontario Superior Court concluded that the decision to terminate was not discriminatory because the employer was unaware of the employee’s mental disability at the time the decision to terminate was made. The Court held that the employee’s conduct amounted to just cause, and the employer’s response of termination was the same as it would be for any employee who engaged in this type of workplace violence.

The employee appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. The Court refused to interfere with the trial judge’s conclusion that the employment relationship was not sustainable after the employee uttered violent threats towards his fellow employees. The Court also agreed that the appellant’s disability, unknown to the employer at the time of termination, played no role in the decision to terminate. The Court reasoned that even if the employee’s conduct was influenced by his mental illness, such considerations are irrelevant if the illness played no part in the employer’s decision to terminate. On this basis, the Ontario Court dismissed the appeal.

The Supreme Court’s denial of the employee’s application for leave to appeal marks the end of this extended litigation. The result is important for employers as it suggests that the presence of a mental illness does not permit employees to engage in acts of workplace violence. This case also reemphasizes the proposition that a finding of discrimination is based on the information available to the employer at the time of dismissal, not factors raised after the fact.

Bellehumeur v. Windsor Factory Supply Ltd., 2015 ONCA 473, Leave to Appeal ref’d [2015] SCCA No. 362. Supreme Court of Canada Leave to Appeal denied February, 25, 2016.

A copy of the Ontario Court of Appeal decision can be found here.

Questions relating to the content of the article may be directed to Nazeer Mitha.