The plaintiff, a mother of two children, was awarded damages for lost wages and pain and suffering, as well as $20,000 in special compensation by the Human Rights Tribunal after the CNR “recklessly” refused to give her any useful information about how long she would be staying or about housing arrangements following its temporary transfer of her to another community to cover a conductor shortage. She made out a prima facie case of discrimination on the basis of family status since she demonstrated that (i) she was responsible for the care of two children, (ii) a temporary move would disrupt her children’s care, and (iii) CNR did not give her any information about how long she would be staying in Vancouver or about housing arrangements, despite her requests. CNR failed to accommodate her and her need to arrange for childcare to the point of undue hardship by refusing to provide her with the information required to make the arrangements.
Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Human Rights Tribunal – Human rights complaints – Discrimination – Duty to accommodate
Canadian National Railway Co. v. Seeley,  F.C.J. No. 452, 2014 FCA 111, Federal Court of Appeal, May 2, 2014, Pelletier, Mainville and Scott JJ.A.
In 2010, the Human Rights Tribunal found that CNR had discriminated against one of its train conductors, Seeley, on the ground of family status by refusing to accommodate her childcare needs following her transfer. Seeley had been laid off in 1997 and worked on an emergency basis in Jasper until 2001 while continuing to accumulate seniority. She had two children and in 2005, CNR recalled her back to work due to a shortage of conductors in Vancouver. Seeley sought an accommodation with respect to her childcare needs and requested permission to remain on layoff until Vancouver no longer required her services or when work became available closer to home. CNR slightly extended her recall date but then informed her that her seniority rights had been forfeited and her employment terminated because she failed to cover the shortage in Vancouver.
The HRT found Seeley made out a prima facie case of discrimination since she demonstrated that (i) she was responsible for the care of two children, (ii) a temporary move would disrupt her children’s care, and (iii) CNR did not give her any information about how long she would be staying in Vancouver or about housing arrangements, despite her requests. The HRT further found that CNR failed to accommodate her to the point of undue hardship. She was awarded damages for lost wages and pain and suffering, in addition to special compensation for $20,000 due to CNR’s “reckless conduct” in failing to provide her with important information with respect to the relocation.
On appeal, CNR submitted that Seeley made no effort to explore childcare options in Vancouver. The Court stated that the fundamental problem with this submission was that none of CNR’s managers provided any useful information to Seeley about her work assignment in Vancouver that would have allowed her to assess her childcare needs, and failed to respond to any of her numerous inquiries in any substantive way. With the lack of information, it was an unrealistic option for her to take her children to Vancouver because she had no idea where, when, or for how long she would be working there. The appeal was dismissed.
This case was digested by Kara L. Hill of Harper Grey LLP. If you would like to discuss this case further, please feel free to contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or review her biography at http://www.harpergrey.com.
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