Human Rights Damages on the Rise?

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In the Report of the Ontario Human Rights Review 2012, Andrew Pinto recommended that the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario “reconsider its current approach to general damages awards in cases where discrimination is proven. The monetary range of these awards should be significantly increased.”

Prior to legislative amendments in 2006, damages awards for mental anguish at the Tribunal were capped at $10,000. Under the current provisions, the Tribunal may make any order for compensation, including compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect. Pinto acknowledges that most observers believe that monetary damages would increase as a result. But his report found that damages remained in the $500-$15,000 range, with exceptional awards ranging from $25,000-$40,000.

The Tribunal may be listening. On December 4, 2013, the Tribunal awarded a total of $71,000 in general damages and $27,592 in lost income to three applicants who it found were subject to racial and religious discrimination.

The applicants were employed in the kitchen at Le Papillon on the Park, a French restaurant in Toronto. They are all practicing Muslims—they do not eat pork and fast during Ramadan. They allege that the restaurant owners forced them to eat pork dishes and eat during Ramadan. They also alleged that the owners refused to let them speak Bengali, take time off at Eid and then threatened to replace them with “white” staff. The Tribunal heard evidence from the Applicants, the owners and a number of employees and concluded that the restaurant did discriminate against the Applicants.

Though the damages awards are, in and of themselves, noteworthy because of the amount, I believe the more interesting fact is that the Tribunal awarded the Applicants what they requested. So, it’s conceivable, that the awards might have been even higher if the Applicants had requested larger damages.