A federal employee was recently awarded $35,000 by a human rights tribunal.
A federal government employee has been awarded $35,000 by a human rights tribunal after relocation expenses related to caring for an ailing in-law were denied.
The unusual situation arose when Leslie Hicks was transferred from Sydney, N.S. to Ottawa almost 10 years ago. His wife had to stay behind to care for her elderly, sick mother during the initial stages of his transfer and he made claims worth $21,247 under Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s (HRSDC) temporary dual residence policy.
The claim was denied, leading Hicks to launch a 10-year fight for reimbursement of the money plus damages for discrimination based on family status.
The decision was based on the Canadian Human Rights Act, which applies to federal employees, but Ontario employees have similar protection under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Hicks was an advisor for the Coal Mining Safety Commission in Sydney and in 1999 he was informed that his job would be phased out. In 2002, he was offered a position in Hull, Que. at the federal government’s Occupational Health and Safety division.
Hick’s wife stayed behind because her mother had serious health problems and lived in an assisted-living apartment in Sydney. A year later, she moved to a nursing home, where she died in 2007.
In September 2004, Hicks applied for financial assistance under the relocation directive. At the time, it specified that financial assistance could only be claimed for someone who was the employee’s dependent with a temporary illness, and who lived with the employee prior to relocation.
In April 2009, the definition of a dependent was expanded to include a family member living in another residence assisted and supported by the employee.
Hicks filed a grievance in December, 2004 and over the next nine years he was unsuccessful at three levels of hearings plus a hearing before the Public Service Labour Relations Board.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission also refused deal with his claim until ordered to do so by the Federal Court in 2008. The Commission was unable to settle the case, and it was finally referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2011.
At the hearing in the spring of 2013, Hicks testified the long ordeal caused such a strain that he had to take a 40-day stress leave.
In September, 2013 the Tribunal ruled in Hicks’ favour. Tribunal member Réjean Bélanger said the rules under which Hicks had originally applied — which created a distinction between family members permanently living with an employee and those who did not — amounted to discrimination based on family status.
Therefore, in addition to the $21,247 claimed, plus interest for one year of relocation costs, the Tribunal awarded Hicks $15,000 for pain and suffering. Hicks also received the maximum possible punitive damages of $20,000 because HRSDC insisted on a strict interpretation of the Relocation Directive for almost a decade.