Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Employer dinged $266k for discrimination case

There was an interesting appeal decision on a discrimination case out of Ontario last week. Vicky Strudwick became deaf late in life (possibly as a result of a virus). Her Mississauga employer failed to accommodate her disability.

According to court documents, the employer also undertook a campaign of abuse designed to force her to quit. You can read the court decision here.

The Toronto Star summarized some of the “high”-lights of the employer’s performance:
Both bosses “tormented (Strudwick) for the specific purpose of making the work environment intolerable,” the court noted in its sharply worded decision, citing evidence presented in court last summer. 
This included advising co-workers not to talk to Strudwick and to telephone her with information she needed. Not hearing the phone — thereby missing the information — provided her superiors with an opportunity to chastise her. 
When Strudwick requested workplace accommodations — including a Canadian Hearing Society assessment, visual fire alarm, a special telephone designed for hearing impaired people, and permission to turn her desk around so she could see people as they approached her — Hoffman denied them, taking the position they were “unnecessary,” the court decision stated.
Strudwick was eventually fired, which led to lengthy legal proceedings. Strudwick won her case but appeals the damages. Ontario’s Court of Appeal increased the damages awards by more than $100,000 to $266,000. The employer’s efforts to shift the damages to its managers was unsuccessful.

Overall, this case unscores the financial and reputational peril faced by employers who seek to push workers requiring accommodation out of the workplace.

-- Bob Barnetson

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