Protecting Disabled Workers from Discrimination

Representing the United Steel-Workers, Local 1-423 in a representative complaint on behalf of a group of its disabled members, the lawyers of Koskie Glavin Gordon achieved a finding that Weyerhaeuser Co. terminated its disabled employees mere months before a mill closure because Weyerhaeuser wanted to avoid paying them the severance payments they were entitled to under the collective agreement.  Weyerhaeuser was ordered to pay these employees their severance pay, as well damages for injury to their dignity, feelings and self-respect.

Acting on behalf of the Union, our lawyers filed a representative complaint on behalf of four disabled employees alleging that Weyerhaeuser discriminated against them with respect to their employment, on the basis of mental and physical disability, contrary to s. 13 of the Human Rights Code. The employees worked at the Okanagan Falls Mill and, in April 2007, each of them had been in receipt of LTD benefits for periods ranging from four months to approximately 13 years. On April 9, 2007, all of these members received a form letter advising them that their employment with Weyerhaeuser was terminated on the basis of non-culpable absenteeism, effective June 15, 2007.

On September 17, 2007, Weyerhaeuser announced the permanent closure of its Okanagan Falls facility, effective December 17, 2007. The collective agreement provided that severance pay would be paid to employees terminated because of a permanent closure. However, due to their termination of employment on June 15, 2007, the four members on LTD were denied severance pay by Weyerhaeuser.   We were pleased to assist the Union in its complaint alleging that Weyerhaeuser terminated the employment of these disabled members to avoid paying them severance, and thus discriminated against them. Weyerhaeuser attempted to argue that it was just implementing a new policy and the Okanagan Falls managers were not aware of the closure at the time the members’ employment was terminated.

In presenting the case on behalf of the Union and these disabled members,  our firm persuaded the Tribunal to reject this argument.  The Human Rights Tribunal declared that Weyerhaeuser’s conduct was discriminatory and ordered Weyerhaeuser to pay the employees the severance pay that they should have received, with interest, as well as damages for injury to their dignity, feelings and self-respect in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.