In Francis v. BC Ministry of Justice (No.5), 2021 BCHRT 16, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal recently awarded nearly $1 million to a former corrections officer who was a victim of workplace discrimination, including $176,000 for injury to dignity. Citing nine incidents constituting discrimination and two incidents of retaliation, the Tribunal found that Mr. Francis was subject to a poisoned work environment. Mr. Francis suffered significant psychological injuries as a result, including depression and PTSD.
In their decision, the Tribunal wrote that the purpose of an award for injury to dignity is to compensate the complainant for the actual harm they have suffered as a result of the discrimination. The Tribunal considered five main factors in their assessment of damages:
the nature of the discrimination found;
the time period and frequency of the discrimination;
the vulnerability of the complainant;
the impact of the discrimination upon the complainant; and
the totality of the relationship between the parties.
The nature of the discrimination Mr. Francis endured was serious. The comments and actions of his colleagues struck at the core of Mr. Francis’ identity and feelings of self worth and emotional well-being. He was stereotyped and singled out on numerous occasions. Mr. Francis experienced everyday racism in the form of racialized comments and slurs. After filing a human rights complaint, he was called a “rat” and told that he had a “target on his back”.
The Tribunal found that Mr. Francis was subject to discrimination and retaliation by both co-workers and supervisors. Mr. Francis’ vulnerability was exacerbated by the fact that he worked in a high stress environment which required trust and cooperation among employees to ensure the safety and security of everyone. Mr. Francis testified that he did not feel safe at work and could not trust his coworkers.
The discrimination had a significant impact on Mr. Francis. His workplace had become poisoned, and he had no other reasonable option but to leave his place of employment. Since his departure in the summer of 2013, he has been medically unable to return to work as a result of his psychological injuries. This inevitably led to financial strain on both him and his family.
The totality of the relationship between the parties exacerbated Mr. Francis’ vulnerability and the impacts that he experienced as a result of the discrimination. He was the victim of discrimination from multiple sources at his place of employment, and after reporting these incidents to management and filing a human rights complaint, he was retaliated against by two supervisors.
This decision demonstrates that the Tribunal can award significant damages for one’s injury to dignity. What distinguishes this decision from other similar cases was the drastic impact the discrimination had on the complainant’s life. It is now clear that there is no cap for injury to dignity, and under the right circumstances, future decisions can incorporate six-figure awards for this head of damage.