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Discrimination in the workplace can be costly

B.C. tribunal sides with seven Caucasian employees
employment law
The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal sided with seven Caucasian employees who argued they were fired or forced to resign because their employer wanted to replace them with Chinese workers. Google Street View

By Stuart Rudner

When we think about employers discriminating against employees due to race, we often think of non-Caucasian employees facing discrimination.

However, a recent British Columbia human rights case shows that discrimination based on race can also happen to Caucasian employees.

In Eva obo others v. Spruce Hill Resort and another, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal sided with seven Caucasian employees who argued they were fired or forced to resign because their employer wanted to replace them with Chinese workers. In siding with the seven Caucasian employees, the tribunal awarded them a total of $173,141.

The background

In 2015, Kin Wa Chan became the new owner of the Spruce Hill Resort, located on thousands of acres of wilderness in British Columbia. The decades-old resort offered a full suite of services, including restaurants, cabins and motel rooms, spa, and fitness facilities. One complaining employee had worked there for 20 years.

In January 2016, the resort underwent major renovations that were expected to last six months. Many of the staff were laid off, as the renovations meant the resort wasn’t running at full capacity. Despite that, Chan hired Chinese workers and soon after, the hours of the Caucasian employees were cut back. Some of the employees began keeping a diary of arguments with their employer and keeping track of acts they believed were discriminatory.

In August 2016, all of the employees that complained to the tribunal were either fired or resigned within days of each other. The employees argued that their hours were cut as Chan hired Chinese employees because he mistakenly believed he wouldn’t have to pay them overtime or statutory holiday pay.

The tribunal found evidence that Chan repeatedly said he wanted to replace Caucasian workers with Chinese ones to cut labour costs. The tribunal ruled Chan discriminated against the seven employees based on race, which is against the human rights code.

Six employees were awarded compensation for lost wages. All seven complainants were awarded compensation for injury to dignity. Each employee received compensation ranging between $62,561 and $7,000 total.

The Human Rights Code

Human rights legislation across Canada, such as the Canadian Human Rights Act and the British Columbia Human Rights Code, prohibits discrimination based on protected grounds such as race, ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, or disability. These laws are meant to protect workers, but sometimes, discrimination still creeps into the workplace. In Canada, employers have not just a moral, but also a legal responsibility not to discriminate against their employees.

The bottom line is that while human rights legislation is designed primarily to protect groups that have traditionally been disadvantaged or discriminated against, the reality is that it is to be interpreted to protect all groups. So even those that have historically benefitted from discrimination cannot be discriminated against.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, HAB Press. All rights reserved.

Stuart Rudner

Stuart Rudner, Employment Lawyer and MediatorStuart Rudner is the founder of Rudner Law (RudnerLaw.ca), a firm specializing in employment law. He is a senior employment lawyer, mediator and arbitrator. He can be reached at stuart@rudnerlaw.ca, (416) 864-8500 or (905) 209-6999, and you can follow him on Twitter @RudnerLaw.
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