Supreme Court

Human Rights

What Constitutes Discrimination

Substance Abuse

No discrimination where employee dismissed for failing to disclose addiction contrary to safety policy

Complainant had safety-sensitive job driving loader in employer’s mine. Employer policy (Policy) required employees to disclose addiction issues before any drug-related incident occurred. If employee failed to disclose, was involved in incident, and tested positive for drugs, Policy provided for termination of employment. Complainant’s loader was involved in accident. After complainant tested positive for drugs, he told employer he was addicted to cocaine. Complainant was dismissed under Policy. Complainant brought human rights complaint alleging employer discriminated against him on basis of addiction disability. Human Rights Tribunal held complainant was not dismissed because of addiction but for breaching Policy, so there was no prima facie discrimination. Tribunal’s decision was affirmed by Court of Queen’s Bench and majority of Court of Appeal. Complainant appealed to Supreme Court of Canada. Appeal dismissed. Tribunal’s conclusion that there was no prima facie discrimination was reasonable. Tribunal repeatedly stated addiction was not factor in decision to terminate, and rejected argument that denial prevented complainant from disclosing his addiction prior to accident. Finding of stereotypical or arbitrary decisionmaking is not stand-alone requirement for proving prima facie discrimination. There was no need to alter settled view that protected ground need only be factor in decision.

Stewart v. Elk Valley Coal Corp. (2017), 2017 CarswellAlta 1023, 2017 CarswellAlta 1024, 2017 SCC 30, 2017 CSC 30, McLachlin C.J.C., Abella J., Moldaver J., Karakatsanis J., Wagner J., Gascon J., Côté J., Brown J., and Rowe J. (S.C.C.); affirmed (2015), 2015 CarswellAlta 1190, 2015 ABCA 225, Ellen Picard J.A., Jack Watson J.A., and Brian O’Ferrall J.A. (Alta. C.A.).


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