Editorial: Partial justice for outrageous wage rate

Terri-Lynn Garrie may have some trouble collecting on the nearly $187,000 the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ordered her employer to pay her as redress for the paltry wage she received for 10 years as a general labourer, but there’s at least some hope the case will shed light on systemic wage discrimination against people with disabilities.

On Feb. 28, HRTO tribunal vice chairman Ken Bhattacharjee ordered Janus Joan Inc. to pay Garrie, a resident of St. Catharines, Ont., $142,000 for lost income during the time she worked for the company at $1 or $1.25 an hour. She’s also to receive almost $20,000 for lost income after she lost her job and a further $25,000 for the violation of her inherent right to be free from discrimination and for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.

It was a welcome decision, particularly after the HRTO had earlier rejected her claim for redress for the 10 years she and others with disabilities worked for the company because the allegation was untimely given that the discrimination had begun in the late 1990s and Garrie made her application in late 2009.

Fortunately, the HRTO reconsidered that decision and ordered a new hearing that resulted in the Feb. 28 ruling.

The case was troubling on a number of levels. First, the company was wrong to justify the paltry pay as a so-called training wage. Second, the arrangement was an affront to taxpayers who were on the hook for Ontario Disability Support Program benefits that effectively subsidized the discriminatory wage. And, of course, the HRTO’s original decision to award compensation for lost wages during the post-employment period based on the $1.25-per-hour rate was outrageous.

Garrie will obviously have trouble collecting on her substantial award given that the company named in Garrie v. Janus Joan Inc. is no longer operating (even though a company with a similar name began operations in St. Catharines). But those assisting her should at least do their best to seek enforcement.

In the end, the decision sends a clear message to employers that may try to justify discriminatory wages on the basis of claims such as those put
forward by former Janus Joan Inc. owner Stacey Szuch that the company was providing “volunteer trainee” placements to people who didn’t have time cards and could look at magazines or play cards. As part of his ruling, Bhattacharjee recommended the Ontario Human Rights Commission look into how widespread such discriminatory wages against people with disabilities are. Hopefully, the commission will take up the task.
— Glenn Kauth

For more, see "Shocking discrimination case needs sorting out," and "Worker paid $1.25/hour gets 2nd chance to prove case."

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