We reported in the July 1998 issue of FOCUS that Bell Canada had been successful in quashing a decision by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to appoint a Tribunal to hear the wage discrimination complaint of 20,000 Bell operators (see “Two rulings by Federal Court shut down Bell Canada pay equity case” on our Publications page).
However, in a decision released on November 17, 1998, the Federal Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s ruling and ordered the Commission’s decision restored. The Appeal Court was critical of the emphasis given by the lower court to the interpretation of section 11, the wage discrimination provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Whether the Commission interpreted section 11 correctly “was simply not the issue at this stage”, the Court stated. Rather, the issue was whether the Commission had a reasonable basis in the evidence to request the appointment of a Tribunal. Accordingly, the Court stated that it would not comment on many of the controversial remarks made by the lower court judge about wage discrimination. The Appeal Court also disagreed with the lower court about the status of the unions to bring the complaint on behalf of their members, noting that the Act did not bar the unions from proceeding without the consent of members. Finally, the Appeal Court commented on the view expressed by the lower court that the unions had acted in bad faith by filing a complaint against wages they had negotiated with the employer, stating that under section 11, the employer alone is liable for wage discrimination. While it may be self-serving for a union to complain against wages it has negotiated, the Court stated, it is not legally wrong.
On July 8, 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada refused, without reasons, to hear Bell Canada’s appeal. As a result, the case will proceed.
For further information, please contact Carole Piette at (613) 563-7660, Extension 227.