In a judgment handed down on January 27, 2014, the Quebec Superior Court1 held that a decision of the Commission des lésions professionnelles (employment injury review board) finding that there was no workplace harassment operated as res judicata in relation to a complaint filed with the Commission des relations du travail (labour relations board) under section 123.6 of the Act respecting labour standards alleging psychological harassment at work.
This ruling by the Superior Court affirms the imperative of reining in the duplication of proceedings based on the same facts.
In this case, the worker had filed a claim before the Quebec’s Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST) for employment injury allegedly caused by psychological harassment in the workplace. When her claim was rejected, the worker had taken her case to the employment injury review board, the Commission des lésions professionnelle (CLP). On September 29, 2008, the CLP dismissed the worker’s claim, finding that the facts adduced by the worker did not constitute psychological harassment but rather the ordinary exercise of the employer’s management rights.
At the same time as she filed her claim with the CSST, the worker had also filed, among other things, a complaint under section 123.6 of theAct respecting labour standards (LSA) contending that she had been the subject of psychological harassment at work. A statement of facts in support of the claim of harassment had been filed by the worker before the labour relations board, the Commission des relations du travail (CRT), but the complaint had been suspendedsine die.
Following the dismissal of her claim by the CLP, the worker had sought to obtain a hearing on her complaint before the CRT. Seeing that the facts underlying the psychological harassment complaint before the CRT were the same as the facts submitted before the CLP, the employer filed an objection to the complaint based on res judicata, which objection the CRT sustained.
The CRT was of the view that res judicata should apply inasmuch as the CLP, on the same facts as were presented before the CRT, had found that there was no psychological harassment. The condition that there be identity of the parties, the thing and the cause at suit was thus met.
The Superior Court ruling
The Superior Court held, first, that the applicable standard of review was the reasonableness standard, which called for deference in relation to judicial review. However, the Court pointed out that even if the applicable standard were the correctness standard, hence a standard that allowed it to intervene without restriction, it would dismiss the application for judicial review. The Court held that the CRT’s decision was well founded.
On the subject of res judicata, the Court wrote: “[translation] the CLP, in a well-reasoned decision, found that the applicant had not suffered any psychological harassment in her workplace. There is therefore no purpose to be served in reopening the whole debate before the respondent.”
Citing the Supreme Court of Canada, the Court noted that regardless of what legal principle (abuse of process, res judicata, etc.) served as the basis for dismissing the worker’s complaint after a first decision based on the same facts had dismissed her claim, these principles “[s]ingly and together, […] are a rebuke to the theory that access to justice means serial access to multiple forums, or that more adjudication necessarily means more justice.”2
Leave to appeal from the Quebec Superior Court’s decision has been sought. It will be interesting to follow the outcome of this dispute. However, it is important to note that this is the second decision of the Superior Court affirming that a decision of the CLP which found that there was no psychological harassment should operate as res judicata in relation to a complaint or grievance based on the same facts. A similar conclusion was reached in Syndicat canadien des communications, de l'énergie et du papier-SCEP (Association canadienne des employés en télécommunications-ACET) c. Amdocs Gestion de services canadiens inc.3 A number of grievance arbitrators also appear to share this point of view.4
Indeed, there seems to be a growing consensus for the need to curb the proliferation of proceedings being taken in multiple forums, a trend that is certainly in line with the aim of sound management of legal resources and preventing the same disputes from being brought before more than one tribunal. Will the Court of Appeal uphold this approach in this case? We will keep you posted.