Ontario Superior Court upholds human rights tribunal's authority over workplace disputes

The case involves allegations of discrimination and failure to accommodate

Ontario Superior Court upholds human rights tribunal's authority over workplace disputes

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice affirmed the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario’s (HRTO) role in adjudicating complaints arising from workplace disputes, irrespective of concurrent grievance or arbitration processes.

The court dismissed the London District Catholic School Board's application for judicial review concerning an interim decision by the HRTO. This decision affirmed the HRTO's concurrent jurisdiction to adjudicate a complaint filed by Karen Weilgosh against the school board, challenging the latter's assertion that only labour arbitrators have exclusive rights to decide on human rights complaints under collective agreements.

Karen Weilgosh's application to the HRTO alleged discrimination and failure to accommodate by her employer. This sparked a legal debate on the HRTO's jurisdictional reach after the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling in Northern Regional Health Authority v. Horrocks, 2021 SCC 42.

The Superior Court noted that the HRTO's decision to proceed with Weilgosh's case, despite the school board's objections, was based on an examination of the relevant legislation and a two-step test established by the Supreme Court in Horrocks to delineate jurisdictional boundaries between labour arbitrators and statutory tribunals.

The HRTO found that while labour arbitrators under the Labour Relations Act, 1995, and the Police Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, have exclusive jurisdiction over claims within a collective agreement's scope, this exclusivity is overridden by the legislative intent to establish a concurrent jurisdiction regime for human rights claims. This conclusion was drawn from the analysis of s. 45 and 45.1 of the Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, granting the HRTO the authority to defer or dismiss complaints if another proceeding appropriately addresses the complaint's substance.

The court noted that the HRTO's interpretation was further reinforced by the unique legislative history of the Ontario Code, which suggested a deliberate move from exclusive to concurrent jurisdiction, particularly following amendments that allowed direct applications to the HRTO. This was seen as a clear legislative intent to maintain concurrent jurisdiction over human rights disputes, even when related grievances or arbitration proceedings are ongoing.

The court, aligning with the HRTO's reasoning, dismissed the school board's application, emphasizing that delaying the judicial review until the administrative proceeding's conclusion would cause undue uncertainty for employers, employees, and unions.

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