April 19, 2016

Human Rights Case Involving Discriminatory Employment Conduct Nears End

The Court of Appeal of Alberta recently issued a judgment in a human rights case, Walsh v. Mobil Oil Canada, involving gender-based discrimination in employment. The legal dispute, which has resulted in several judgments of courts and a Tribunal over the past 22 years, is finally nearing its conclusion.

In its judgment, the court expressed full agreement with the lower court’s findings of discriminatory and retaliatory conduct by a large oil company against a female employee. In addition to ruling on the employment-related issues, the judges also indicated concern about the delays in the processing of the complaint by the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

Human rights complaint pits female employee against oil company

The female employee’s original human rights complaint in 1991 involved her allegation that the company was treating her differently because of her gender. The Court of Appeal’s case judgment indicates that she received several promotions and eventually achieved her objective of becoming a “land representative,” but states that she was treated differently than the men occupying the same position. The judges assert that “she was underpaid, under recognized and overly criticized as a result of gender bias.”

However, four years after receiving the employee’s discrimination complaint, the Alberta Human Rights Commission (known as the “Tribunal”) dismissed it. After the oil company terminated the woman’s employment, she filed another human rights complaint, alleging that the company had retaliated against her because of her original complaint. Ten years later, the Tribunal dismissed that complaint also.

Ultimately both the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench and the Court of Appeal “vindicated” the female employee by overturning the Tribunal’s decisions. The issues before the Court of Appeal in the most recent judgment concerned the size of the former female employee’s monetary awards.

Parties in the case and legal observers frustrated by the tardiness of the legal process

A blog authored by the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary expresses frustration at the slowness of the legal process in this matter. The author also comments negatively on the performance of the Alberta Human Rights Commission, calling the case “an extreme example of some of the criticisms of Alberta’s human rights system.”

Despite the recently concluded appeal to the Court of Appeal, the judges indicate that both parties in the case want the legal process to end. The only issues remaining involve legal costs.

This case illustrates – in an extreme fashion – the special difficulties presented by human rights complaints involving corporate conduct. Any company that is notified of such a complaint should engage counsel with extensive experience in the relevant area of law. This expertise can prove invaluable in the handling of cases stemming from human rights law.