Duty to Accommodate Mental Health Disability Upheld by Landmark Ontario Human Rights Decision



    TORONTO, Dec. 18 /CNW/ - A recent Ontario Human Rights Tribunal decision
in the case of Lane v. ADGA Group Consultants Inc. of Ottawa has upheld the
right of persons with a mental health disability to be appropriately
accommodated in the workplace under Ontario's Human Rights Code.
    The Ontario Human Rights Commission investigated and litigated the
complaint filed by Mr. Lane regarding his dismissal from ADGA Group
Consultants Inc., a company involved in contract government information
technology services.
    Mr. Lane was hired by ADGA as a quality assurance analyst. His
responsibilities included "Mission Safety Critical" work such as artillery
software testing. A few days after he commenced his employment, Mr. Lane
advised his supervisor that he had bipolar disorder and required
accommodation. The accommodation included monitoring for indicators that
Mr. Lane might be moving towards a manic episode; contacting his wife and/or
doctor; and occasionally allowing Mr. Lane to take time off work to avert a
situation where he would move from pre-manic stage to a full-blown episode.
His supervisor gave no assurances, but undertook to get back to him.
    As Lane became more anxious about management's response to his
accommodation request, he began to exhibit pre-manic symptoms. Although Mr.
Lane's supervisor and manager were aware of this when they met with him a few
days later, they did not address any of his needs, they did not consider
putting the meeting off to get more information, and they did not obtain legal
advice. Instead, they immediately terminated his employment, which triggered a
severe reaction that led to full-blown mania. Mr. Lane was hospitalized for 12
days, after which he experienced severe depression due to his inability to
obtain other work. His financial position deteriorated, he had to sell his
house, and his marriage ended.
    In its decision, the Tribunal held that management terminated Mr. Lane
because of his disability and perceptions related to his disability, with
virtually "no investigation as to the nature of his condition or possible
accomodations within the workplace."
    The Tribunal further found that ADGA had breached the procedural duty to
accommodate, and this itself constituted a form of discrimination. The
procedural duty to accommodate required "those responsible to engage in a
fuller exploration of the nature of bipolar disorder... and to form a better
prognosis of the likely impact of (Mr. Lane's) condition in the workplace."
    The Tribunal also rejected ADGA's argument that Mr. Lane had an
obligation to disclose his disability during the hiring process. The Tribunal
held that if Mr. Lane had revealed this information, it would have likely
triggered a stereotypical reaction in most employers about his ability to do
the job, leading to a decision not to hire and no opportunity to explore
possible accommodations.
    In awarding damages, the Tribunal wrote, "This was an instance where the
Respondent's lack of awareness of its responsibilities under the Code as an
employer was particularly egregious. There were no workplace policies in place
dealing with persons with disabilities. Moreover, senior management were
singularly oblivious to those obligations... ."
    The Tribunal found ADGA's dismissal of Mr. Lane to be "not only
precipitate and unaccompanied by any assessment of Mr. Lane's condition but
also callous to the extent of its consequences in the sense that nothing was
done on the day to ensure that Mr. Lane in his pre-manic condition reached his
home safely and sought medical attention."
    The Tribunal awarded Mr. Lane $35,000 as general damages; $10,000 for
mental anguish; a further $34,278.75 in special damages, as well as pre- and
post-judgement interest.
    With respect to public interest remedies, the Tribunal ordered ADGA to
establish a written anti-discrimination policy and retain a consultant to
provide training to all employees, supervisors, and managers on the obligation
of employers under the Code, with a focus on the accommodation of persons with
mental health issues.
    Commenting on the decision, Ontario Human Rights Chief Commissioner
Barbara Hall stated, "This is a precedent-setting case for mental health
disability in Ontario. Employers need to realize the risks in summarily
dismissing someone with conditions like bipolar disorder."
    "The Duty to accommodate is a reality," she added. "At the systemic
level, the decision clearly reinforces the necessity for employers to take all
requests for accomodation seriously and process them appropriately. At the
personal level, the devastating impact of the events on the life of Mr Lane
would have been very different had a real effort been made to explore with him
and implement creative and individualized solutions."
    ADGA is appealing the decision to Divisional Court.

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For further information:

For further information: please refer to the OHRC Policy and Guidelines
on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate, the Decision and other resources
at: www.ohrc.on.ca or contact: Afroze Edwards, Media Relations, Policy &
Education Branch, (416) 314-4528; Jeff Poirier, Manager, Communications,
Policy & Education Branch, (416) 314-4539


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