Case Studies

Case examples illustrating the different protected areas and grounds of discrimination and how they are handled.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission receives many complaints about acts of discrimination that contravene the Alberta Human Rights Act.

The examples of cases on this page illustrate the different protected areas and grounds of discrimination and demonstrate how cases are handled. Details of actual cases have been changed to protect the identity of the parties involved.


44 Case Studies found

A woman filed a complaint alleging discrimination in the area of services, on the grounds of gender, ancestry and race. She claimed that, while she was enrolled in a course at a post-secondary institution, she was subjected to remarks of a derogatory nature about her culture, and because of these and other incidents, failed her course. The investigation found merit. The complainant did not settle for the recommended remedy, and her file was discontinued.

A woman who worked as a waitress in a hotel lounge, filed a complaint alleging her employer discriminated against her on the grounds of gender/sexual harassment. She alleged her employment was terminated because she refused to serve a customer who was making inappropriate comments. The investigation found merit. However, the complainant was not willing to accept the recommended remedy, and her complaint was discontinued.

A woman who worked as an office clerk complained that her manager made discriminatory comments to her, and treated her differently than others because of her colour and race. She also complained that the employer discriminated against her on the basis of her colour and race by requiring her to undergo a medical exam to verify her illness while she was away on sick leave. The allegations were investigated, and evidence showed that the complaint did not have merit. Evidence showed that the workplace was undergoing many changes and the woman incorrectly assumed that the stress created in the workplace was because of her colour or race. Evidence also showed that it was a requirement of the union contract that employees on medical leave undergo a medical exam and that other employees had been asked to undergo a medical exam while on disability leave. The complaint was dismissed.

A man complained that an institutional facility discriminated against him on the basis of his race and colour. He alleged that slurs about his race and colour were made against him, and that important documentation was deliberately misplaced, resulting in negative consequences. The service provider denied knowledge of any racial slurs directed to the man and claimed the misplaced document was due to an administrative error. Evidence obtained during investigation did not support the complaint. There was no evidence that employees of the service provider directed derogatory remarks to the complainant or that there was any connection between the misplaced document and the man's race and colour. The complaint was dismissed.

A man of Aboriginal ancestry filed a complaint against his employer, alleging discrimination on the basis of race, colour, ancestry and place of origin. He alleged a large number if discriminatory incidents culminating in his termination of employment.

Conciliation of this case was not successful, and an investigation was done. The investigation determined that some of the allegations were a result of the complainant's lack of information and, in other cases, there were reasonable non-discriminatory explanations for the employer's actions. The complaint was dismissed, and the complainant did not appeal the dismissal.

A woman applied for an advertised position at an industrial machinery rental company. Although she was not successful in getting the advertised job, the company did offer her a permanent position as a sales coordinator. Shortly after she informed her employer of her pregnancy, the complainant was terminated. The investigation into the complaint found no evidence that the dismissal was connected to her pregnancy.

A female journeyman electrician with more than five years of experience was hired to work for a small industrial company. She was transferred out to a field location where she worked until she was laid off. The complainant discovered that male journeymen with the same experience as she had were paid one dollar an hour more than she was making. The respondent claimed there was a difference in pay for field work and work in the shop. The investigation into the complaint did not find merit.

A man was hired as a welder at a privately owned manufacturing company. He had undergone surgery for a back condition. There was no indication that the employer was aware of the complainant's back condition. According to a finding of a separate review body, during the complainant's second day of work, he fell and re-injured his back. The respondent terminated the complainant claiming his work was inferior. The investigation into the complaint did not find merit.

A man worked for a manufacturing company for over 20 years. Several years before he was terminated, he had suffered an injury at work that had been handled by the Workers' Compensation Board. Following his return to work, he complained of constant pain and could not do the work he had originally been hired to do. The company accommodated the complainant for several years by allowing him to set his own workload and by not requiring him to work overtime, as was required of other employees. He was not as productive as other employees. Eventually the company terminated the employee for cause, siting poor work performance. However, the poor performance was not documented. After the termination, the company hired the complainant back into a temporary position, which suited the employee better. When the temporary job ended, the complainant was laid off.

The complainant alleged discrimination based on physical disability. Investigation found that the company had accommodated the man for four years, including allowing him to set his own workload, and had no obligation to supply this accommodation on an indefinite ongoing basis. It was a coincidence that the company had a short-term contract at the time the complainant was terminated which allowed him to do similar work, but under completely different conditions. The complaint was dismissed. The complainant appealed to the Chief Commissioner who upheld dismissal of the complaint.

A man alleged that he was discriminated against and that his employment was terminated because of a physical disability. Conciliation of this case was not successful, and an investigation was conducted.

The investigation found that the man had initially provided medical information to his employer recommending that the man be off work for eight weeks. The employer accommodated this request. After the eight week period, the employer requested further information about the man's medical condition. The man failed to keep the employer informed of his status. Investigation revealed that the man's employment was terminated because he did not keep his employer informed about his status and availability of work, not because of a physical disability. The complaint was dismissed. The complainant did not appeal the dismissal.

A man alleged that his employer discriminated against him by firing him due to absences related to his disability. The employer stated that the man was fired because of absences unrelated to his disability. Conciliation of this complaint was not successful, so an investigation was done.

The investigation showed that the complainant did have a disability and that the employer had taken his disability-related absences into account when he was terminated. The investigation also showed that the complainant did not participate adequately in the process of accommodation as he did not phone in to report his absences. The process of accommodating a physical or mental disability requires the cooperation of both the employer and employee. The investigator determined that accommodation was not possible in this particular case do to the sporadic nature of the man's illness and his lack of cooperation. The complaint was found to be without merit and was dismissed.

The complainant was terminated from his employment due to an injury obtained at a second, but concurrent, employer. The respondent maintained that the complainant had a history of excessive absenteeism and was terminated for that reason.

Conciliation of this complaint was not successful, so an investigation was done. The investigation found that the respondent had demonstrated a commitment to accommodation. The respondent had accommodated the complainant for a variety of conditions over the years, and had also followed a process of education and discipline for innocent absenteeism that exceeded company standards.

Further, in this particular case, the complainant had reached the final stage of a disciplinary process and had agreed to a condition of employment where he would be terminated if absent from work. While the complainant's injury was new and unrelated to any previous accommodation, it was found that the respondent did not have a new duty to accommodate. This finding was based on the facts that the complainant had been accommodated in the past, had agreed to a strict policy regarding no more absences, and had knowingly chosen to work for a second employer in a high risk profession. It was therefore found that while the complainant was terminated from his employment based on a physical disability as defined by the Alberta Human Rights Act, it was reasonable and justifiable given the circumstances. The complain was dismissed and the file was closed.

A woman with a disability complained that the transportation system for persons with disabilities refused to pick her up at the time she requested.

Conciliation of this complaint was unsuccessful so an investigation was conducted. The investigation established that although the vehicle did not pick up the woman at the time she requested, the service provider had altered the schedule as much as possible in order to accommodate her. In addition, the complainant did not show that this was anything more than an inconvenience. On the basis of all relevant factors, the investigator determined that this inconvenience was no greater for her than for other users of the public transportation system as a whole. The complaint was found to be without merit and was dismissed.

A Caucasian-Canadian factory worker complained that management discriminated against her because of her race, colour and gender. The worker alleged she was treated differently than her Asian-Canadian male o-workers, and when opportunities for further training arose in her area of specialty, management ignored her and sent Asian-Canadian males instead. She left her employment as a result of this treatment. The employer denied the allegations, but an investigation showed her complaint had merit. The employer provided a financial settlement. 

A Canadian of African descent alleged he had been discriminated against by his employer because of his race and colour. He stated that during his lengthy employment, he was denied permanent status by his employer while other employees with less seniority were not, and that despite his seniority, he was the first one to be laid off during seasonal layoffs. The employer denied the allegation, but an investigation into the matter showed his complaint had merit. The employer reimbursed the employee for lost wages during the lay-off season, backdated his seniority to reflect prior years of service and made appropriate pension and benefit adjustments. The complainant was satisfied and the file was closed.

A man filed a racial discrimination complaint with the Commission. He claimed he was denied service when purchasing a bottle of name-brand mouthwash. The man alleged he was refused service when the store assumed he was Native and an abuser of the product. The store claimed that the produce was protected under the Public Health Act and therefore, they could control its sale. The store's policy required a $20.00 purchase when buying a bottle of mouthwash.

An investigation was conducted. The evidence showed that the store made the decision to impose the policy on the complainant, thereby withholding service, and did so based on the factors of race, colour and ancestry. In addition, the store's policy was found to have no basis under the Public Health Act. The complaint was found to have merit and damages were awarded to the complainant for injury to dignity and self-respect.

A woman who was employed as a sales clerk at a food store, stated that her employer subjected her to ongoing harassment by asking her to take particular religious courses and join a church. She filed a complaint, alleging discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs in the area of employment. The investigation found merit in the complaint.

A First Nations woman complained that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her native spirituality when, among other things, her employer asked her to remove some artifacts from her office that she needed to practice and teach native spirituality to her clients. The woman also complained that she overheard non-aboriginal staff making disrespectful remarks about an upcoming sweat lodge ceremony.

The respondent's policy was to ban any articles that could be used as potential weapons, or that would provide temptation for theft. When the respondent advised the complainant of the need to adhere to the policy, the complainant chose to quit her job. When the respondent tried to resolve the conflict with her after her departure, the complainant would not discuss a resolution.

Conciliation of this complaint was not successful, and an investigation was done. The investigation determined that the respondent's policy was reasonable and justifiable, and that it was equally enforced with employees regardless of their spiritual beliefs or religious practices. But the investigation also corroborated that insensitive and disrespectful remarks, and attempts at "humour" by some staff and clients regarding the practice of native Spirituality were not unusual or uncommon. It was therefore concluded that education of staff and clients was called for, and implementation of an awareness-raising program was recommended. The respondent agreed to implement a cross-cultural training program to education their staff and clients on the nature of native spirituality and the need for respectful conduct to be shown towards its practitioners. The complaint was settled at the investigation stage and the file was closed.

A woman filed a complaint against her employer, alleging discrimination based on gender/sexual harassment. The woman alleged that her employer would make sexual comments towards her and other female staff. The complainant claimed she repeatedly asked the manager to stop making sexual advances towards her. A short time later, the complainant was dismissed from her duties. She believed it was because of her refusal to engage in sexual activity with her employer. Conciliation was unsuccessful, and the file was forwarded for investigation. The respondent offered to settle the matter. The complainant accepted the finacial package offered by the respondent as a remedy.

A man stated he was hired by a woman whom he had known for some time as a casual friend. He stated that once he went to work for her, she began to sexually harass him. He alleged that the woman kissed him against his wishers and discussed her sexual interests with him. He claimed that when he refused her advances, his supervisor began to find fault with his work and then terminated his position. Investigation found that while sexual harassment had occurred, the complainant's termination was based on poor performance. The man was awarded damages for the sexual harassment.

A woman alleged that her boss sexually harassed her and that her termination from her job was related to the sexual harassment. The respondent did not participate in the investigation. A former manager provided partial corroboration of the complainant's allegations. Based on the evidence, the complaint was found to have partial merit. The complainant was subjected to sexual harassment, but her termination was not related to the harassment. It was recommended that the respondent pay the complainant $1,200 as compensation for injury to her self-respect. The respondent and complainant agreed to settle the complaint for the recommended amount and the file was closed.

A man claimed that when he returned from disability leave, his employer failed to accommodate him appropriately, made false claims about his performance, and terminated him from his job. Investigation established that the complainant had performance problems, possibly beginning prior to his disability which justified his termination. However, evidence also revealed that the employer did treat him differently upon his return to work than it had prior to his injury. On this basis, his complaint was found to have merit. It was recommended that the complainant be compensated in the amount of $2,300 for damages caused by offence to his dignity as a person with a disability. The complainant accepted the settlement.

A man was injured while working for an industrial company. The man's supervisor was aware that the man was receiving rehabilitation treatments through the Worker's Compensation Board. While the man was off work, his employer sent out a recall notice to a group of employees, including him. When the man did not return to work by the date specified, the employer considered him to have abandoned his job.

Conciliation of this complaint was not successful so an investigation was done. The investigation found that the employer discriminated against the man by strictly applying its usual recall practice. It would not have been undue hardship for the employer to wait until the man completed his treatment before asking him to return to work. The investigator recommended that the man receive a financial settlement of $1,000 for injury to dignity and self respect. However, the man considered his complaint settled. When he received the investigation report which supported his complaint, he asked that the Commission not pursue the employer for the financial settlement.

A man claimed he was terminated from his job while on medical leave due to stress-related mental illness. The man stated that he had asked to be accommodated on a graduated return to work, but his employer refused to accommodate his request.

Conciliation was not successful so the complaint was investigated. Investigation revealed that the complaint had merit. While it was determined that the employer could easily have filled the complainant's position on a temporary basis, the employer chose to replace the complainant early in his absence without informing him. It was recommended that the complainant be compensated for the period of time that he required to find new permanent employment and for the expenses he incurred during his job search. The respondent made an offer to settle, which the complainant accepted. The complainant received $12,000 as a settlement.

A woman alleged that she suffered age discrimination in the area of employment. Upon returning from medical leave, she was informed that there was no longer a position available. However, the employer was continuing to advertise available positions. The investigation revealed that the woman had recently attained the age of 65. Her colleagues and employer assumed that she was going to retire, in part because of comments made by her regarding looking forward to her birthday and age-related benefits that would ensue. However, age is a protected ground under the Alberta Human Rights Act. Unless an employer can justify a certain age as a bona fide occupational requirement, there is no mandatory age of retirement that an employer can enforce on an employee. Merit was found and the complainant was awarded three months salary and damages for pain and suffering.

A Caucasian man employed in a restaurant filed a complaint alleging a supervisor favoured employees of East-Asian ancestry over Caucasians. He alleged he was not allowed sick leave while others were, that he was subjected to unfair criticism regarding his work, and that he left employment as a result of the discriminatory treatment. The employer claimed the man was criticized because of concerns with job performance, not because of race or colour. Despite conflicting perspectives, the complainant and employer agreed to participate in conciliation. The employer offered to provide the complainant a letter of reference. The man accepted and the file was closed.

A woman filed a complaint that her supervisor told jokes and made comments based on racial stereotypes. She perceived that her supervisor discriminated against her because the jokes and comments were related to her race and place of origin. The respondent maintained that an internal investigation in the workplace had determined that all staff, including the complainant, participated in telling jokes and making comments about the complainant's race. A settlement was reached during conciliation. the settlement included distributing educational material about the Human Rights Commission and about discrimination to the management and staff at the workplace.

A woman and her husband, both of African ancestry, complained that an employment agency discriminated against them based on their race and place of origin. They alleged that, when they applied for jobs, they were told that their qualifications from another country were not acceptable in Canada. No attempt was made to assess their qualifications. he complainants stated that they were denied a position that was given to a Caucasian applicant who was much less qualified.

During conciliation, the agency denied the allegations but offered job-finding assistance to the couple. When the couple stated that they were currently employed and therefore not in need of such assistance, the agency offered monetary compensation of approximately $600 for the perceived discrimination. The woman and her husband accepted the compensation in resolution of their complaint.

A female sales clerk complained that a male supervisor sexually harassed her verbally by making comments about parts of her body and by suggesting they could "have a lot of fun in bed." She also claimed to have been grabbed from behind. The complainant said she appealed to the company management, but no effective action was taken. The company not only denied the sexual harassment allegations, but also said the woman had not complained. Through conciliation, the parties agreed to resolve the matter. The company offered damages to the woman, which she accepted.

An administrative assistant, employed by an educational institution, complained she was sexually harassed by her supervisor. She alleged the male supervisor commented that attractive women helped promote the program, indicated which colours looked good on her, and rubbed her shoulder on one occasion. She claimed she was terminated without cause after she complained to the personnel department. The employer disputed her allegations, claiming her termination was based upon performance concerns. This complaint was resolved through conciliation. The employer offered to re-employ the woman with terms she found satisfactory. The employee accepted the offer.

A woman complained that she was sexually harassed by a co-worker. She alleged that the male co-worker constantly made comments of a sexual nature towards her, and he forcefully attempted to kiss her. She stated that she reported the matter to the manager, but nothing was done to remedy the situation. She said that the manager told her that such behaviour was "normal" in the organization and that he could not do anything to correct the situation. The Commission settled the complaint through conciliation, and the complainant received a compensation package.

A woman alleged that she was treated unfairly in employment on the grounds of family status and gender (pregnancy). She claimed that her employer had not accommodated her after the birth of her child, as her child had experienced health problems and consequently the complainant's maternity leave had been extended more than once. When she was ready to return to work, the manager had changed, and the complainant no longer had her old position. The employer did offer her a night position, but the complainant did not consider this appropriate.

Conciliation was held. As a result, the complainant was given a letter of apology, and a ban forbidding her and her children from visiting the place of employment was lifted. The complainant was not interested in returning to work for this employer. The respondent also attended an education session on human rights issues. The complainant agreed to this settlement, and the file was closed.

A woman who worked as a secretarial assistant stated that she was forced to take disability leave as a result of fibromyalgia. When she returned to work, she told her supervisor she could not longer type and requested other duties. The supervisor said her job could not be modified and requested a note from the complainant's doctor indicating her ability to do the job. When her doctor wrote that she would be off work indefinitely, the complainant was terminated. In conciliation discussions, the employer stated that typing was a basic requirement, and that reasonable accommodation could not be made. This was explained to the complainant, who requested a letter of reference which the employer agreed to provide. The file was closed.

A woman complained that her employer had discriminated against her based on her physical disability, hearing loss. She claimed that her employer had not accommodated her request for a change in duties that would accommodate her disability. She could no longer do her original job because the work environment was too noisy and she could not conduct telephone conversations.

Conciliation was successful. The employer accommodated the employee by providing a different job within the complainant's physical capabilities although at a lower salary that was commensurate with the new work. The complainant was satisfied with these terms.

A complainant alleged his employer had discriminated against him on the ground of physical disability. The man alleged that the employer failed to provide modified light duties, and therefore he was not able to return to work. The employer denied the allegations saying that the Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) had declared the man fit for work. During conciliation, the parties agreed to a settlement of the disputed matters, and the complainant received financial compensation of $7,500.

A woman stated that upon making a reservation at a hotel, she confirmed that it was accessible to persons with disabilities. Her party, which included a person in a wheelchair, arrived to find there was only limited accessibility. During conciliation, the hotel indicated they had made an error in not specifying the level of accessibility. The complainant was offered and accepted a refund as settlement and the file was closed.

A man with impaired vision who uses a guide dog was denied entry to a restaurant. The proprietor indicated that the public would view the dog as unsanitary. The proprietor also said that it was against public health regulations to allow the dog into the restaurant.

During conciliation, the complainant requested that the Commission provide an educational consultation to the restaurant owner and his staff so that they would be better informed about accommodating persons with visual impairment. The restaurant owner agreed to admit guide dogs into the restaurant in the future. The complainant and respondent agreed that the owner and his staff could provide the public with printed educational information from the Commission about accommodating persons with disabilities should they complain about the presence of guide dogs. The complainant was satisfied with this result.

A woman complained on behalf of her son who has Down's Syndrome. She stated that they were denied service and/or accommodation at a trail riding service, but she had previously had no trouble with her son on other similar rides.

Upon receiving the complaint, the respondent explained that although they have staff who are trained to assist people with disabilities, this was a particularly busy day and the staff member reacted pre-emptively by refusing service. Conciliation ensued, and the respondent readily agreed to a half-day training session for all his summer staff and a policy review by Commission staff. The complainant was pleased with this result and the file was closed.

A woman complained that the manager of the apartment building where she and her husband lived refused to accommodate her husband's disability. The woman alleged that the manager neglected to respond to complaints that her husband, who uses crutches, had difficulty entering his vehicle because of the proximity of other vehicles. The manager stated that he had asked the tenants on either side to leave sufficient space for the couple to enter their vehicle, but had difficulty obtaining compliance. During conciliation, the manager agree to remind tenants to sufficient space and repainted the lines marking the complainants' parking stall. Permanent above-ground markers that will remain visible in the winter were also installed to designate the couple's spot. The complainants agreed with these measures and the matter was settled.

A man with a physical disability claimed that he had experienced discrimination based on the ground of physical disability in the area of tenancy. He alleged that his landlord failed to accommodate him during a renovation of the apartment building he lived in. The man used a wheelchair. He required his caregiver to have access to a parking area that could accommodate a wheelchair and that was within reasonable distance from the front door of the apartment. Such accommodation had been provided prior to the renovations.

The landlord claimed that the complainant failed to provide adequate information regarding his need for accommodation. During conciliation, the parties agreed to a compromise of disputed matters. The complainant received $450 and a letter of apology from the respondent.

A man alleged discrimination in the area of employment on the ground of mental disability. He was hospitalized for a mental illness and though his employer had accommodated him initially, after a few months he was terminated.

Conciliation was held and the parties reached a settlement. The employer agreed to attend an education session on the provisions of the Alberta Human Rights Act and in addition, to make a donation of less than $5,000 to a charity chosen by the complainant. The complainant agree to this settlement.

A woman filed a complaint against a post-secondary educational institution alleging that she had been discriminated against because of a mental disability. She had a learning disability that affected her ability to read and write accurately. She could not successfully complete a course because of her disability, and her graduation was dependent upon successful completion of this course.

When starting her education at this institution, the complainant was unaware that she had a learning disability. It was diagnosed after her instructors discovered her poor reading and writing abilities. Therefore, the complainant had not informed the institution of her disability nor of her need for accommodation for her disability.

Once the disability was diagnosed, the institution accommodated her by providing her with an extended period of time to overcome her learning disability and to successfully complete the course. The complaint was successfully conciliated, and the file was closed.

A person of European ancestry complained of discrimination in the area of services. He alleged a local licensing body refused to recognize his qualifications from his home country, preventing him from practicing his trade in Alberta. The licensing authority denied the allegation and stated the person's performance in the provincial qualifying test was questionable and did not satisfy the organization. Through conciliation, the licensing body agreed to review its decision, resulting in its granting permission to the complainant to practice his trade in Alberta.

After working for the same company for many years, a Métis man was transferred to a new location. He claimed that his new co-workers made offensive comments about "Natives," which continued until he was again transferred. At the next site, he alleged that he was called a racist name every time he went into the social room. He also became the target of crude jokes and remarks about Natives. With the assistance of the Commission, the parties were able to reach a mutually acceptable resolution during conciliation, including a financial settlement, changes to company policy, and an apology.