CHRT issues key decision on duty to accommodate

Canadian Border Services Agency ordered to pay damages and compensation to woman denied adequate accommodation following childbirth.

Ottawa (10 Aug. 2010) - A Canada Border Services Agency officer who had to give up her full-time position after the birth of her first child has won a six-year battle with her employer for its failure to accommodate her needs as an employee.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission Tribunal (CHRT) has ruled that the federal agency discriminated against Fiona Johnstone and employees like her who seek accommodation based on family status.

Johnstone had been working a variety of shifts as a full-time officer at Pearson Airport in Toronto and had a good record with her employers when she had her first child in 2003.

Both before going on maternity leave and before returning to work in 2004, Johnstone had asked her employer if she could come back on an altered schedule, one in which she worked three static 13-hour shifts a week with no preferred start time.

The unusual schedule was suggested so that she could care for her child on the four days she could not find available child care while also working the weekly number of hours necessary to maintain her status as a full-time employee with maximum potential pension benefits.

Her employer denied the requests, saying the agency had an unwritten policy not to provide full-time hours to those requesting accommodation on the basis of child-rearing responsibilities. The agency came back with an alternative schedule of three days of 10-hour shifts and one day of a four-hour shift.

Johnstone argued that the agency has and continues to accommodate employees for medical and religious reasons or in the event of medical reasons involving children.

The tribunal ordered the agency to pay $35,000 in general and special damages for pain and suffering as well as lost wages and benefits from 2004 to the present arising from her loss of full-time status - plus interest.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) says the decision sets a precedent for future cases.

"We've now got something from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that talks particularly about the duty to accommodate with respect to family rights," said union president John Gordon. "I think that's going to help a lot of people down the road."

The CHRT which holds hearings and hands down rulings on cases that cannot be resolved by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC).


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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