On April 18, 2013, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario released a decision that will be alarming to employers across the province. In Morgan v. Herman Miller Canada Inc., the applicant, Aldeen Morgan, filed an application against his previous employer, Herman Miller Canada Inc., and the President of Workplace Resources, Corrado Fermo, alleging discrimination and harassment based on colour, and reprisal.
The applicant had worked with Herman Miller Canada Inc. from July 3, 2007 to March 10, 2010 as an Installation Scheduler. His employment was terminated by the employer for a variety of work-related issues.
In his Application, the Applicant alleged that he was discriminated against in the following ways:
- he was assigned menial and demeaning tasks such as breaking down boxes or taking the garbage to the basement;
- he was inappropriately disciplined and subsequently ignored for having disseminated confidential information to contractors;
- he was the subject of a client complaint that the applicant’s team looked “like they were picked up at the corner of Queen and Sherbourne;” and
- he was terminated for complaining about the mistreatment he received in the workplace.
The Tribunal found that the applicant had failed to establish that he was discriminated against in any way. He was not allocated menial and demeaning job tasks, he was not disciplined, and he was not the subject of client complaints on the basis of his colour.
However, the Tribunal did conclude that Herman Miller had not diligently followed up on his (unfounded) complaint that he was being discriminated against in the workplace. It also found that the Applicant’s employment was terminated in part because he had raised issues of harassment and threatened to sue the company. This was said to be an act of reprisal against the Applicant.
The Tribunal awarded the applicant $55,799.70 in damages for lost wages (representing 14 months of lost wages) and $15,000 in general damages for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.
Herman Miller Canada Inc. was also ordered to retain a human rights expert to review and revise its human rights policies and train any employee with the rank of management or higher with respect to human rights. Finally, Mr. Fermo was ordered to complete the “Human Rights 101 eLearning Module” prepared by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, even though he was no longer employed by Herman Miller Canada Inc.
This decision is disturbing in that it awards significant human rights damages to an individual who was not discriminated against in any way. Employers will be surprised to learn that a failure to seriously investigate an unfounded allegation of discrimination could result in an award of almost a year and a half’s salary for an employee. The award of general damages seems to mean that the Tribunal accepted that a failure to investigate an unfounded complaint could somehow cause injury to the complainant's "dignity, feelings and sef-respect."
This case should remind employers of their obligation to take complaints of discrimination seriously, investigate the complaint, and document the findings. A failure to do so may have significant consequences, even where it turns out there was nothing to the complaint in the first place.