Class Actions Alleging Discrimination

| 3 minutes

Earlier this year, we wrote about proposed class actions related to COVID-19. Now another potential trend reflecting current events appears to be emerging: proposed class actions related to racial discrimination. We report on proposed class actions filed in the United States and Canada. Many of the class actions proposed to date target police departments and governments, but some deal with businesses:

  • content creators filed a class action complaint in California against YouTube and Google alleging discriminatory censoring on the basis of race;
  • a complaint filed in Texas against a community college, on behalf of present and former Black employees who allege they were terminated or demoted due to racial discrimination;
  • a class action complaint alleging unlawful detention and abuse of power by police officers during recent protests has been filed against the City of Los Angeles in California; 
  • the Superior Court of Quebec recently certified a class action by the La Ligue des Noirs du Québec alleging racial profiling by Montreal police through unjustly arresting and detaining non-Caucasian citizens;
  • Aboriginal persons in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut filed a complaint against the federal government, alleging that Indigenous and Aboriginal people are subject to repeated discriminatory assaults by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; and
  • the CBC has reported that a proposed class action is being prepared on behalf of Inuit who allege they suffered discrimination while in Canadian healthcare facilities.

This trend is consistent with a recent rise of class actions alleging workplace harassment in discrimination in Canada. These complaints demonstrate that claimants may attempt to address their claims using class actions instead of human rights and workplace legislation:

  • several complaints have been filed against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, involving systemic claims of sexual harassment and gender-discrimination;
  • a recent class action alleging discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sex, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation in the Canadian Armed Forces was settled; and
  • in a recent proposed class action against a private-sector employer, the Court of Appeal for British Columbia held it could hear cases alleging breach of an employment contract arising from workplace discrimination or harassment.

These cases highlight an increasing trend of plaintiffs invoking class actions to address alleged discrimination. However, contested certification hearings in this area remain rare, so it remains to be seen whether many discrimination cases will be suitable for class action treatment in Canada.

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