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Apology and Gift Card Make Human Rights Complaint Go Away

Brianne Duke filed a BC Human Rights Tribunal complaint, 2018 BCHRT 283, that when shopping at a grocery store operated by Sobey’s in Burnaby, she was approached by an employee who told her inappropriate jokes referencing sex. Ms. Duke alleged that the behaviour by the Sobey’s employee amounted to discrimination on the basis of sex contrary to the (British Columbia) Human Rights Code. Ms. Duke said that she no longer felt comfortable shopping at the Burnaby store as long as the employee continued to work there and that she felt that she could no longer safely access the store without being sexually harassed. 

Prior to her complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal, Ms. Duke had sent a letter to Sobey’s describing what had happened to her at the store and requesting a $250 grocery gift card and a public apology on company social media accounts. Sobey’s promptly investigated the incident. An employee admitted telling the joke and he was disciplined by Sobey’s for his inappropriate conduct. Sobey’s apologized to Ms. Duke and subsequently mailed her the requested $250 gift card. 

Sobey’s applied to the BC Human Rights Tribunal to have Ms. Duke’s human rights complaint dismissed. The Tribunal Member considered the application under section 27(1)(d)(ii) of the Code which permits the Tribunal to dismiss a complaint where proceeding with it would not further the purposes of the Code. The Tribunal has interpreted this section such that, “where a complaint of discrimination has already been appropriately resolved, through whatever means, there is no need to proceed with the complaint in order to prevent discrimination or provide a means of redress – the discrimination has already been remedied”. 

In this case, the Tribunal member was struck by the priority given by Sobey’s to Ms. Duke’s complaint: it immediately investigated; confirmed that the events had occurred; disciplined the employee; and gave Ms. Duke what she initially asked for – a gift card and an apology. The Tribunal Member commented that, “it does not further the purposes of the Code to encourage a complainant to increase what is sought, after they receive what they initially asked for”. With respect to the discipline given to the employee, Sobey’s as an employer had a responsibility to ensure that its employees do not engage in discrimination and the labour relations steps taken by the employer were not under review by the Tribunal. 

The complaint was dismissed under section 27(1)(d)(ii) of the Code for not furthering the purposes of the Code. 

Most organizations now have systems and procedures in place that encourage customers and employees to provide feedback, identify concerns, and bring forward complaints. This decision of the Tribunal emphasizes that prompt attention to such reports or complaints is important. If a complaint is investigated and substantiated and the remedy being requested is reasonable, providing the requested remedy and an apology may go a long way and may even be sufficient to resolve a human rights complaint. 

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Lawson Lundell's Labour and Employment Law Blog provides updates on the most recent legal developments impacting the Canadian workplace and offers practical tips for employers. We cover a range of topics, including labour relations, employment law, collective bargaining, human rights, employment standards, employment equity, workers' compensation, business immigration, privacy, occupational health and safety and pensions and employee benefits. 

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