Supreme Court of Canada rules in human-rights case involving Langley firm

The case involved two people working for separate contractors on a Delta road project.

Discrimination cases in the workplace can invovle more than just superiors and their employees, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in a case that invovled a Langley firm.

The case began on a Delta road improvement project under construction in 2013 and 2014.

Mohammadreza Sheikhzadeh-Mashgoul was working as a civil engineer on the site for Surrey-based consulting firm Omega & Associates. Edward Schrenk worked on the same project, but he was a foreman for the Langley-based Clemas Contracting.

According to a Supreme Court summary of the case, Schrenk “made derogatory statements to Mr. Mashgoul and others with respect to Mr. Mashgoul’s place of origin, religion and sexual orientation and sent him derogatory emails.”

Omega & Associates complained to Clemas, and Schrenk was first removed from the worksite, and when the emails continued, fired.

Mashgoul then filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal, claiming discrimination in employment by Schrenk.

Schrenk applied to dismiss the complaint, saying that it was not within the bounds of the tribunal’s powers, because there was not an employment relationship between the two men.

The B.C. Court of Appeal agreed with Schrenk, and ruled that the Human Rights Tribunal did not have jurisdiction.

But a majority of Supreme Court justices found for a broader interpretation of the law.

“As the foreman of the worksite, [Schrenk] was an integral and unavoidable part of [Mashgoul’s] work environment,” Justice Malcolm Rowe wrote for the majority. “[Schrenk’s] discriminatory behaviour had a detrimental impact on the workplace because it forced [Mashgoul] to contend with repeated affronts to his dignity.”

Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella wrote a concurring opinion, saying the issue in question was whether employment discrimination under the B.C. Human Rights Code can happen when the harasser has no position of authority over the victim.

In this case, Mashgoul didn’t work for Schrenk, and if anything, Omega had some authority on the project over Clemas Contracting.

Human rights principles suggest that all employees are protected, Abella wrote. “Applying these principles leads to the conclusion that an employee is protected from discrimination related to or associated with his or her employment, whether or not he or she occupies a position of authority.”

Three judges, including Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin dissented. They felt that the Human Rights Code only applies to employer-employee or similar relationships.

“Therefore, the Human Rights Tribunal had no jurisdiction over the complaint,” McLachlin wrote for the minority.

The ruling means the Human Rights Tribunal does have jurisdiction over the case.

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