Human rights complaint against AMS dismissed

Former Peer Support Centre director alleged disability-based discrimination and poor work environment

A Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) complaint filed against the AMS in March 2013 by a former employee was dismissed earlier this month after an adjudicator failed to find evidence of employment discrimination based on her disability.

Sau-Ling Hum, who served as the director of the Peer Support Centre (PSC) from May 1, 2011 to March 21, 2012, filed the complaint on March 22, 2013. Hum stated that she had a visible mobility impairment and chronic medical conditions, including a sleep disorder.

Hum alleged: when she requested taxi chits that would enable her to get home safely, she was given five or six in the spring term, but only two at the beginning of fall term and two before winter term began, in contrast to her volunteer managers receiving eight when they asked after she was terminated in 2012; she requested that the AMS IT Manager provide her with remote computer access as an issue of accommodation, but was never given remote access; her supervisors were concerned with volunteer training in Oct. 2011 being too long, but not Hum’s own work hours; there was a “pattern of unhelpfulness” that poisoned the work environment; the AMS failed to take her health concerns and wellbeing into account; and the AMS failed to meet her when terminating her employment though policy requires both written notification and a meeting.

She clarified at a hearing that she didn’t consider her termination to have been discriminatory in and of itself, but rather the manner in which it had been carried out was.

The AMS responded that employees are provided with chits whenever requested and Hum never complained that she didn’t receive enough chits; requests for remote computer access should have been made to her supervisor, which she didn’t do and never mentioned anyone else failing to provide her with that access; the AMS made several attempts to meet with her before her termination, and she failed to respond to its requests for meetings or attend a scheduled meeting; and she was never “subjected to any acts of discrimination” and there are “no grounds for the applicant’s claim of discrimination”.

Because the complaint was filed after the one-year limitation period in the Human Rights Code, the AMS requested that the application be dismissed. Hum stated in the complaint that she’d been ill for most of the last year and her dial-up connection could affect the delivery time of a large file — which was received by the HRTO at 5:17 p.m. on March 21, 2013, but considered to have been filed on March 22.

Hum represented herself at the hearing and called Lucielle Zuiker, 2011-12 PSC training manager, as a witness. The AMS called Lindsay Reynolds, 2013-14 PSC director; TK Pritchard, 2011-12 Social Issues Commissioner and 2013-14 vice-president of university affairs; Chris Whelan, former IT manager; and Kieran Slobodin, 2011-12 vice-president of university a ffairs.

At the hearing, the AMS testified that while it knew about Hum’s visible disability, it wasn’t aware of her sleep disorder, which Hum acknowledged. She added that there was no reason the AMS should have been, due to privacy regarding her health. The adjudicator, Brian Eyolfson, found that Hum had a disability falling within the definitions of the Human Rights Code.

When it came to whether Hum had been subjected to discrimination on the basis of disability, Eyolfson dismissed her claim that she’d been discriminated against through the limited number of taxi chits she’d received, because there was no evidence that the AMS knew the number of chits given to her wasn’t enough to meet her disability-related needs.

Pritchard testified at the hearing he’d never been told Hum needed more chits, which Hum didn’t dispute.

Eyolfson found with regards to remote computer access that Hum didn’t have an “actual disability-related need” for remote access.

“Even if greater remote computer access was a disability-related need for the applicant, it appears from the evidence that it was only discussed once with Mr. Whelan, as a possibility, when they met on May 24, 2011,” Eyolfson wrote.

“As discussed above, a person seeking accommodation has a duty to make his or her Code-related needs known. In my view, if the applicant had an actual disability-related need for greater remote computer access, it was insufficient for the applicant to not follow-up with Mr. Whelan, or anyone else with the respondent, when she did not hear back from Mr. Whelan after greater remote access was discussed once as a possibility.

Eyolfson also found that Hum hadn’t been subjected to discrimination relating to the termination of her employment — Hum testified that she’d cancelled meetings relating to her termination because she was ill with a temporary respiratory illness — and “even if she did suffer some disadvantage, it doesn’t appear that any disadvantage would be related to a disability within the meaning of the Code”.

Eyolfson wrote that Hum’s allegations of a poisonous environment were unrelated to disability, and that Hum’s other testimony about her issues with the AMS was also unrelated to disability.

Pritchard told The Journal via email that he was “content” with the outcome of the case.

“My testimony and the verdict of the tribunal clearly demonstrate that there was no negligence on the part of the AMS,” he said.

“The employee was treated equitably and appropriately both in her employment and in the termination process.”

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