Alberta Human Rights Tribunal Orders Reinstatement and Back Pay in Age Discrimination Case

As larger numbers of employees continue to work past the age of retirement given the elimination of mandatory retirement in most jurisdictions, employers must remain cognizant of their continuing obligations under human rights legislation. In the recent decision of the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal in Cowling v. Alberta (Employment and Immigration), 2012 AHRC 12, the complainant, Joan Cowling, filed a complaint of discrimination on the basis of age. Ms. Cowling worked as a Labour Relations Officer for the Province of Alberta for eight years on fixed term contracts. In 2007, Ms. Cowling reapplied for a position at the end of her contract and the Province declined to re-hire her, despite her being assessed as “fully meeting expectations”. Ms. Cowling was 67.

The Alberta Human Rights Tribunal ordered the employer to reinstate Ms. Cowling in addition to awarding approximately five years’ salary and a general damages award of $15,000 (including interest on all amounts and costs). This case highlights that, if challenged, employees will be faced with a heavy onus to justify that hiring or other employment-related decisions are made on legitimate business grounds and not on prohibited grounds of discrimination, which includes those over 65 years old.

The Province is expected to appeal the decision.

Another noteworthy award, which included reinstatement, was recently granted by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in Fair v. Hamilton Wentworth District School Board. Our brief overview of that decision can be found here.

age of retirement Alberta Human Rights Tribunal Cowling v. Alberta (Employment and Immigration) discrimination Fair v. Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board fixed term contract general damages Human Rights Tribunal Joan Cowling mandatory retirement Province of Alberta reinstatement

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