Interpreting contracts

Anthony Adams is employed by the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority, and he is a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 968. He is also Afro-Canadian.

Mr. Adams reported to his supervisor that he had been subject to discrimination. He met with the general manager of the housing authority concerning the discrimination. He filed a grievance pursuant to his collective agreement.

Mr. Adams also filed a statement of claim in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court against his employer alleging that he was discriminated against on the basis of his race, colour and ancestry. He alleged unequal treatment, racist comments, denial of opportunity to do work for which he was qualified, hostile work environment and denial of promotions.

In response the housing authority brought a motion for an order to strike out or set aside the statement of claim on the basis that the essential character of the claim, namely discrimination, was dealt with under the collective agreement and by the regime created under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.

In determining whether the Court had jurisdiction, the Court first identified the essential character of the claim: discrimination. The issue was whether the dispute in its essential character arose from the, interpretation, application, administration or violation of the collective agreement. The collective agreement must expressly or implicitly address the substance of the dispute.

Article 3 of the collective agreement deals with discrimination. The parties to the agreement agreed that there would be no discrimination or intimidation against any employee by the housing authority, the union or their respective officers by reason of an employee’s race, colour, creed, sex or membership in the union.

Article 7 sets out the grievance procedure. If a grievor is not satisfied with the result of the grievance procedure, the matter is to be referred to binding arbitration.

In addition to the collective agreement, the Trade Union Act confers power on an arbitrator acting under a collective agreement the power to treat as part of the collective agreement the provisions of any statute of the province which governs relations between the parties to the collective agreement.

Therefore the arbitrator appointed pursuant to the collective agreement has the authority to deal with issues of discrimination.

If Mr. Adam was not happy with the results of his grievance, he had the option of having the matter referred to an arbitrator who has broad powers under both the collective agreement and the Trade Union Act in adjudicating the issues. The decision of the arbitrator is subject to judicial review.

Mr. Adam used the grievance procedure, but when he was dissatisfied with the result he did not pursue other courses available to him such as arbitration and judicial review.

Because the essential characteristic of Mr. Adam’s claim was discrimination and there were processes for resolving his claim under the collective agreement and under the Human Rights Act, the Court deferred to these processes. It allowed the housing authority’s motion to strike Mr. Adam’s statement of claim.

For more information:

Adams v. Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority, 2001 NSSC 134.

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