Public Servant’s Discrimination Claim Against Government Heading to Tribunal

wooden gavel on laptop

A complaint alleging that the federal government’s use of inaccessible computer programs is discriminatory against employees with disabilities is headed to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT).

Abigail Shorter, an employee of the federal government for 14 years, initiated a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) after losing her job in 2015. When Shorter’s position with the government was declared surplus, she found that her inability to use various pieces of software meant that she was unable to secure another government position. Shorter, who has a master’s degree in public administration as well as a learning disability and difficulties using a computer and mouse, was quoted by CBC News saying that she found herself “less and less marketable” because she was unable to use the software. She also noted that she’s “not the only one that’s happened to”. The CHRC investigated Shorter’s complaint and referred the case to the CHRT.

The CBC piece specifically highlighted several programs used by the federal government as problematic: GC Docs, GC Connex and Phoenix. GC Docs is the government’s electronic document and records management system, GC Connex is the government’s internal social networking platform, and Phoenix is the government’s consolidated pay system for employees.

Shorter’s lawyer, David Brooks, is also quoted by CBC: “If they can’t use that software, they really can’t do their jobs. […] As a consequence, their work suffers and they’re treated as if they’re not capable. They’re perfectly capable, they simply are denied the means of doing it.” Alongside Shorter’s human rights complaint, Brooks is preparing a Charter claim: “[n]ew software is being put in place as we speak that’s not accessible. It contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Code and the policies I have seen requiring accessibility be part of the tendering process.”

Canada’s Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough released a statement acknowledging the issue and stating “[w]e are working towards ground breaking accessibility legislation that will address barriers for person with disabilities such as accessible technology in all areas of federal jurisdiction, including the federal Public Service.”

Shorter’s CHRT case will be heard this summer.

This blog post was written by a CCLA summer law student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA.