$75K award “patently unreasonable” says court

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British Columbia’s Supreme Court recently overturned a damage award in one of the most noteworthy Human Rights decisions of 2014. In that decision, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (the “Tribunal”) ordered $75,000 in damages for injury to the dignity of an Applicant whose medical pediatrics residency was terminated by the University of British Columbia in a discriminatory manner. That award more than doubled the previous high water-mark for damages for injury to dignity in similar cases of discrimination of $35,000.
CCPartners wrote about the original decision in May of 2014 (found here).
In its decision, the Tribunal based its elevated damage award in part on:
  • The significant delay to the commencement of the Applicant’s medical practice;
  • The Applicant’s suffering, which was magnified because medicine was his life-long passion; and
  • The Applicant having experienced deep humiliation and embarrassment both socially and professionally.
The University sought Judicial Review of, among other things, the Tribunal’s award of damages for injury to dignity. The University argued that the Tribunal placed undue emphasis on the fact that the Applicant was engaged in medical training, that the Tribunal’s award created a two-tiered system for awarding damages where professionals were given preferential treatment over “mere employees” and that the Tribunal exercised its discretion to award damages for injury to dignity arbitrarily and not based on any relevant facts.

B.C.’s Supreme Court agreed with the University, holding that the Tribunal’s damage award was “patently unreasonable” and that it must be set aside. In support of its conclusion, the Court found “the fact that Dr. Kelly was in a medical program is not a reasonable basis for more than doubling the previous highest award for similar discrimination”.

While the Court held that the Tribunal should not be bound by past damage awards, it maintained that “the decision must still be based on evidence and reason” and that in the Court’s view that had “not occurred in this case”. The Court added that the Tribunal’s discretion “which resulted in that award was exercised arbitrarily”.

The Court chose not determine what the reasonable quantum of damages should have been. Instead, it has remitted the decision back to the Tribunal for reconsideration.

CCPartners will update readers once the Tribunal releases its reconsideration decision.

While the Court’s ruling may appear encouraging for employers, it is unlikely that this decision will provide any chilling effect on the increasingly larger damage awards being handed down by Human Rights Tribunals nation-wide, as it seems each Tribunal (if not each adjudicator) is always seeking to push the envelope.

The lawyers at CCPartners are well-versed in assisting employers with navigating all types of human rights issues and complaints. Click here for a list of experienced lawyers at CCPartners who can help.

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