Summer job hiring policy discriminatory

B.C. company’s policy of favouring children of employees found to be discriminatory by court

The Eurocan Pulp and Paper Company had a summer job program for university and post-secondary students whose local residence was in the Kitimat, B.C. area. The program gave preference to applicants who were children of Eurocan employees. To be eligible to participate in the program, applicants had to meet a number of criteria, including full-time attendance in an accredited university or post-secondary program, grades in good standing in the institution and established local residence.

As a benefit to employees, about 90 per cent of the summer positions were reserved for the children of employees who met the criteria for the program. The positions were assigned by way of lottery. The remainder of the positions were available to applicants who did not have a parent employed at Eurocan but who otherwise met the criteria. A separate lottery was used to assign those positions. In both instances there were more qualified applicants than there were positions. Consequently not all children of employees who qualified were offered a summer job.

The complainant applied for a summer position in 2000. She met the criteria and was placed in the lottery for summer positions for applicants who were not children of an employee. She did not get hired, and claimed that Eurocan’s hiring policy discriminated against her on the basis of family status because her ability to obtain employment for which she was qualified was restricted solely because her parents were not employees of Eurocan.

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal determined that “family status” is not limited to being or not being in a parent-child relationship but extends also to the particular identity of the parent. As such, a policy that excludes all applicants who were not children of Eurocan employees would be in breach of B.C.’s Human Rights Code.

The tribunal relied upon the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in B. v. Ontario (Human Rights Commission) and the obiter comments of Beetz J. in Brossard (Town) v. Quebec (Commission des droits de la personne) in reaching this decision.

Eurocan argued its policy was not an absolute bar to the employment of applicants who have no family connection to the company, but that it merely restricts their opportunity to employment and as such was not discriminatory. The tribunal decided that a hiring policy that impeded access to employment opportunities at Eurocan violated one of the purposes of the code, which is to foster a society in which there are no impediments to full and free participation in the economic, social, political and cultural life in British Columbia.

The tribunal ordered Eurocan to stop giving preference to the children of its employees when assigning summer jobs.

In assessing damages the tribunal concluded the complainant did not lose a guaranteed position as a result of discrimination. She lost the chance to participate in one pool consisting of qualified candidates. The value of the loss to the complainant was determined based on her odds of being a successful candidate had the lottery been conducted properly, which was about six per cent. The wages that the complainant earned through other summer employment exceeded the value of the loss. Consequently she was not awarded an amount for lost wages. She was awarded $1,000 as compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.

The summer student program was developed by Eurocan to encourage its local residents to maintain their attendance at university or post-secondary education by providing them with assistance in meeting their expenses and enabling them to return to Kitimat during the summer. Although this was a laudable goal, the manner in which it was done was discriminatory. Employers with summer student programs should ensure, despite their best intentions in instituting such programs, that the positions are equally available to all applicants who qualify.

For more information see:

Thomson v. West Fraser Timber Co. (c.o.b. Eurocan Pulp & Paper Co.), [2002] B.C.H.R.T.D. No. 32.

B. v. Ontario (Human Rights Commission) (2000), 195 D.L.R. (4th) 405 (Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was dismissed with costs (B. v. Ontario (Human Rights Commission), [2002] S.C.J. No. 67).

Brossard (Town) v. Quebec (Commission des droits de la personne), [1988] 2 S.C.R. 279.

Melanie Manning is an employment lawyer with Rubin Manning & Thomlinson LLP in Toronto. She can be reached at (416) 847-1814 or [email protected].

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