Federal Court of Appeal Affirms Tribunal Decision on Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in the Hiring Process

In a decision delivered from the bench on November 8, 2016, the Federal Court of Appeal affirmed a decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that Transport Canada discriminated against Chris Hughes in a job competition because he was a person with a mental health disability. After attending an oral interview, the hiring panel asked for oral references. Mr. Hughes told the chair of the hiring panel that it was difficult for him to get references from past employers in the federal public service, notwithstanding positive performance appraisals from those employers, because he was a whistleblower who had been involved in litigation with the employers for discrimination on the basis of his disability. Mr. Hughes asked the hiring panel to consider his performance appraisals in lieu of references, and while the panel initially accepted this material from him, it was not satisfied that is was an acceptable substitute for oral references. The Tribunal found, however, that the positive performance appraisals in fact confirmed Mr. Hughes was qualified for the position, and the hiring panel’s knowledge of his disability was a factor in its decision to reject his candidacy.

Transport Canada applied for judicial review of the Tribunal’s decision and, last year, the Federal Court disagreed with the Tribunal’s finding and set the decision aside. In reversing that decision, the Federal Court of Appeal found that the Federal Court re-weighed the evidence before the Tribunal and effectively re-decided the case, even though there was more than ample evidence to support the Tribunal’s key findings. This included evidence that the chair of the hiring panel knew of Mr. Hughes’ disability before deciding he was unqualified for the job, that a document favourable to Mr. Hughes had been altered by the employer, and that the chair of the hiring panel disregarded the accepted human resources practice of considering written material in lieu of reference in favour of verbal references. On that basis, the Federal Court of Appeal concluded the Tribunal’s decision was reasonable.

Mr. Hughes was represented by David Yazbeck and Michael Fisher of RavenLaw.