By Sheryl Smolkin
Read this article and comments at Moneyville.ca
An adjudicator under the Public Service Labour Relations Act awarded a hearing-impaired and speech-impaired Department of National Defence (DND) employee $27,500 plus interest because his employer discriminated against him and failed to accommodate his disability by refusing to provide him with an interpreter on several occasions.
Jeffrey Stringer was a draftsperson at Canadian Forces Base Trenton. His first language is American Sign Language (ASL). He learned English in school as his second language. While he is functional in written English, he has difficulty understanding some English expressions that do not exist in ASL.
When he was hired under an employment equity program, his employer was aware of his disability. Although a performance review suggested he obtain additional written English training, it also acknowledged his limited English language skills did not undermine his work performance in any way.
The Canadian Hearing Society suggests that when interacting with a hearing-impaired employee who communicates using ASL, an employer should use a qualified ASL interpreter for interviews, meetings, training sessions and performance appraisals.
Stringer requested an interpreter on a number of occasions including:
- When the employer met with him to discuss terms of employment.
- When he was presented with his performance review.
- Monthly 15-minute safety meetings.
- An all-employee meeting to discuss a survey on employee morale.
- To help him understand his BlackBerry instruction manual.
In all cases these legitimate requests made in advance were refused. A few of the comments the employer made were, “read the damn manual,” “using ASL interpretation is a crutch” and “the employment equity requirements should not be nit-picky.” The employee testified that he felt humiliated and personally diminished as a result.
The adjudicator noted that DND and the Treasury Board are among the largest, most sophisticated and articulate employers in the country. They know they have an obligation to accommodate and employ employment equity specialists. Nevertheless they systematically ignored Stringer’s requests for accommodation.
He further commented that the employer was particularly reckless to formally admit that the disabled employee was sufficiently competent in English to do his work but at the same time blame him for his limited abilities in English and urge him to get trained simply to reduce the need to accommodate him.
Stringer was awarded $10,000 for pain and suffering and $17,500 in special compensation under the Canadian Human Rights Act plus interest from April 2006 to September 2011. The adjudicator did not order workplace training or a revision of DND’s accommodation policy because he found the discrimination was not the result of the policy, but rather a failure to follow it.
An application for judicial review before the Federal Court is pending.