Feb 17, 2021
Ms. Horrocks was a unionized healthcare aide with Northern Regional Health Authority’s (“NRHA”) personal care home in Flin Flon, Manitoba. She was subject to a collective agreement that forbade discrimination based on “physical or mental disability”, which was also a statutorily protected characteristic under the Manitoba Human Rights Code. Most of the residents of the personal care home were elderly with significant personal care needs. Ms. Horrocks suffered from alcohol dependence which the NRHA conceded was a disability protected by the collective agreement and the Code. In June 2011, after she was found to be intoxicated at work, the NRHA suspended her without pay pending an investigation. The NRHA offered to allow Ms. Horrocks to return to work if she entered into an agreement that included terms requiring her total abstinence from alcohol consumption. Ms. Horrocks refused to sign the agreement on the basis that it was discriminatory toward a person with a disability. The Union grieved Ms. Horrock’s termination and on April 5, 2012, a settlement was reached whereby the NRHA agreed to allow her to return to work on terms that included abstinence, counselling and random testing conditions. Afterward, the NRHA received two reports of Ms. Horrocks being intoxicated outside the workplace. On April 30, 2012, her employment was terminated. She did not file a grievance under the collective agreement but brought a complaint under the Code. The NRHA objected to the adjudicator’s jurisdiction, arguing that the essential character of the dispute underlying the discrimination complaint was within the exclusive jurisdiction of a labour arbitrator under the collective agreement. The Chief Adjudicator disagreed and went on to determine that the NRHA had violated the discrimination provisions of the Code on the basis of the complainant’s alcohol dependency disability during her employment. Her jurisdiction decision was set aside on judicial review. The reviewing judge concluded that the essential character of the dispute was whether there was just cause to terminate the complainant’s employment, which was a matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of a labour arbitrator. The Court of Appeal concluded that the reviewing judge erred in overturning the Chief Adjudicator’s determination as to the essential character of the dispute. However, the Chief Adjudicator also erred by taking too sweeping a view of her jurisdiction.