The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal has found that a Montreal-area mechanic dismissed an employee due to the cost of his medication and that the dismissal constituted discrimination. At issue was whether the employee, MC, was fired for reasons “relié à son handicap”, and if so, whether the firing constituted an infringement of equality rights and dignity.
MC suffers from mood disorder and he takes several medications to control the condition. When MC completed his probation period as a mechanic’s apprentice in 2013, his employer Robert Lantier offered him a permanent job, noting in the hiring process that MC occasionally lost his temper and frequently asked for personal leave. When it became clear weeks later that MC suffered from mental health issues and what the costs associated with the medications would be to the business, Lantier allegedly told MC that he would “coûter cher à assurer”. Lantier was also apparently frustrated that MC had not revealed his condition and its associated costs at an earlier date. Days later, in what Lantier would call “la goutte qui a fait déborder le vase,” MC missed a day of work without permission; Lantier promptly fired MC.
The Tribunal relied on Quebec’s Charter of human rights and freedoms, including section 4, which establishes that “every person has a right to the safeguard of his dignity, honour and reputation” and section 16, that “No one may practise discrimination in respect of the hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment of a person or in the establishment of categories or classes of employment”.
The Tribunal invoked the Supreme Court’s decision Andrews v Law Society of British Columbia to say that discrimination “est une distinction fondée sur des caractéristiques personnelles qui a pour effet de créer des désavantages pour une personne au regard des autres membres de la société”. In order to prove discrimination, the Commission must show three elements: “(1) une ‘distinction, exclusion ou préférence’, (2) fondée sur l’un des motifs énumérés au premier alinéa [of article 10 of the Quebec Charter] et (3) qui ‘a pour effet de détruire ou de compromettre’ le droit à la pleine égalité dans la reconnaissance et l’exercice d’un droit ou d’une liberté de la personne”.
While this analysis was originally pioneered by the Supreme Court in Andrews for s. 15 Canadian Charter, the Tribunal applied it to this case because private actors like employers are subject to the Quebec Charter.
No one contested that MC’s mental health issues constituted a disability (or ‘handicap’, in the Quebec legislation) within the meaning of section 10.
Pointing out that, in workplace discrimination cases, “il est très rare qu’on ait affaire à une preuve directe des motifs de l’employeur”, Yvan Nolet, Jean-François Boulais and Carolina Manganelli of the Tribunal instead reasoned based on contextual factors. In particular, a causal link was strongly indicated by the fact that Lantier fired MC just four days after learning of the cost of his medication and that he did so after having just seen a receipt for that medication.
The decision applies another Human Rights verdict, Gaz métropolitain, where a woman was passed over for a job shortly after the prospective employers learned of her pregnancy. The Tribunal observed in this case that, analogously, until the day when he learned that MC had a mental health issue Lanthier considered MC to be a satisfactory employee.
With the presumption of a rights infringement established, Lanthier failed to rebut; he tried to show that insubordination, irritable behaviour, unexplained absence and occasional lying were the true reasons for MC’s dismissal but the Tribunal found no reasonable professional necessity for the decision.
The Tribunal ordered Service et mécanique MLT inc. to pay MC $5880 in material damages, $4000 in moral damages and $1000 in punitive damages.
The original judgment from the Human Rights Tribunal of Quebec is available here. This blog post was written by a CCLA summer student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA.