The Supreme Court of Canada said Feb. 27 that it will hear the Northern Regional Health Authority’s (NRHA) appeal of a 2015 Manitoba Human Rights Commission ruling that it discriminated against a former employee when it fired her for drinking outside of work hours.
The case is expected to be heard sometime later this year, the commission said.
The ruling was previously reviewed by a Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench justice, who said the human rights case was not valid because neither the woman who was fired nor her union filed a grievance to the human resources director. The Manitoba Court of Appeals disagreed and sent the matter back to the reviewing judge for a decision based not on procedural grounds but whether or not the original human rights adjudicator's decision was reasonable based on the merits of the discrimination complain and the remedies that were ordered.
The NRHA applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in December 2018.
“This case is critically important to determining the rights of unionized employees to file complaints of discrimination under the Human Rights Code,” said Karen Sharma, acting executive director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, in a March 3 press release. “While the Court of Appeal’s ruling provided some guidance as to the right of unionized employees to file complaints with the commission, there remains ambiguity on the interaction between human rights and labour relations schemes in Canada. We are pleased that Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear this case and look forward to receiving much needed clarity on this issue.”
Health care aide Linda Horrocks lost her job at the Northern Lights Manor in Flin Flon in 2012 after her employer, then the NOR-MAN Regional Health Authority, accused her of drinking outside of work in violation of an agreement she signed.
Horrocks filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission claiming she was the victim of discrimination on the basis of her disability of alcohol addiction.
Government-appointed adjudicator Sherri Walsh ordered in 2015 that Horrocks be reinstated, granted full back pay and awarded $10,000 “for injury to her dignity, feelings or self-respect.” Walsh further ordered the NRHA, the successor to NOR-MAN, to implement a policy to provide “reasonable accommodation” to employees who have an alcohol addiction.
Horrocks had been a health care aide for about two-and-a-half years when a manager deemed her to be under the influence of alcohol while at work in June 2011.
She was suspended without pay pending further investigation. Less than three weeks later, NOR-MAN told her she could return to work if she signed an agreement to abstain from alcohol at all times – including non-working hours – and receive treatment for the alcohol problem she admitted she had.
The complete ban on alcohol concerned Horrocks, who refused to sign the agreement on the advice of her union, which called the deal discriminatory toward a person with a disability.
NOR-MAN fired Horrocks on July 20, 2011.
Horrocks’s union filed a grievance. On April 5, 2012, to get her job back she signed an agreement similar to the one she had previously refused, agreeing to abstain from alcohol at all times.
She had not yet returned to work when, on April 30, 2012, NOR-MAN told her it had received reports that she smelled of alcohol at a grocery store and sounded intoxicated when reached at home by phone.
Horrocks denied both reports, but on May 1, 2012, was again fired.