In a recent decision, the BC Human Rights Tribunal more than doubled its previous highest ever award of damages for injury to dignity.
The complainant, Mr. Levan Francis filed his complaint against his employer, BC Corrections in 2012 and left his position at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam in 2013. During the course of his 15-year career with BC Corrections, Mr. Francis had been subjected to racial slurs and physical attacks from his co-workers and supervisors. The Tribunal found that there had been 9 instances where Mr. Francis had been discriminated against on the basis of race/skin colour, contrary to section 13 of the BC Human Rights Code (the “Code”). The Tribunal also found 2 instances where Mr. Francis had been retaliated against as a result of his complaint, contrary to section 43 of the Code.
The Tribunal’s Decision and Award
The Tribunal held that BC Corrections had allowed a poisoned work environment and Mr. Francis had suffered from severe depression and PTSD due to the discrimination and retaliation he experienced in the workplace. The Tribunal awarded damages to Mr. Francis totaling $964,194 plus interest, including $750,000 as compensation for past and future wage loss and $176,000 as damages for injury to dignity.
The Tribunal’s decision more than doubled its previous highest ever award of $75,000 from Kelly v. UBC, 2013 BCHRT 302. The respondent, the BC Ministry of Justice on behalf of the Department of Corrections had sought to limit damages to $400,000. Mr. Francis was denied compensation for approximately $250,000 in legal fees incurred since the beginning of the case in 2012, as the Tribunal held it did not have the authority to award costs.
Implications for Employers
The average range for injury to dignity award from the Tribunal prior to this decision had been in the range of $10,000. This decision signals that the Tribunal will make large awards for injury to dignity if the circumstances call for it. Moreover, the Tribunal’s decision highlights how employers must take allegations of discrimination in the workplace seriously. A failure to adequately investigate and address allegations of discrimination in the workplace (including those based on race, gender, family status, and disability), may result in significant liability for employers.