Monday, August 25, 2008

Court upholds damages in bipolar disorder discrimination case

Ontario Human Rights commission's $80,000 award stands for man fired by ADGA over mental disability
Thulasi Srikanthan, Ottawa Citizen
August 24, 2008

OTTAWA-An $80,000 judgment against an Ottawa company that dismissed a man with bipolar disorder has been upheld by an Ontario court.
In 2001, Paul Lane was dismissed from his new job as a quality assurance analyst with ADGA Groups Consulting Inc., after advising a supervisor that he required accommodations for his bipolar disorder.
Last year, the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that ADGA discriminated against Mr. Lane, and awarded him nearly $80,000. After his dismissal, Mr. Lane became deeply depressed and was hospitalized for 12 days. He lost his savings, wife and home.
A recent appeal of that case was dismissed by an Ontario Divisional Court on Aug. 8 and the tribunal's award was upheld. The commission's cross-appeal to increase the sum awarded for damages was also dismissed.
"I am quite ecstatic that decision was made in our favour," Mr. Lane said.
An official said ADGA is disappointed with the outcome. Since the decision, ADGA has filed an appeal application to the Ontario Court of Appeal.
"I am going to save my celebration until the final appeal is heard and ADGA loses," Mr. Lane said.
The Divisional Court's decision is significant because it reaffirms that employers have a duty to accommodate employees with mental disabilities, including bipolar disorder, said Raj Dhir, a lawyer for the human rights commission.
"Before an employer refuses accommodation, they must obtain all relevant information about the employee, including his or her medical condition, prognosis for recovery, job capabilities and ability to do alternate work," Mr. Dhir said.
"An employer must be able to demonstrate that it is not possible to accommodate employees without undue hardship."
The case marked the first time the commission had dealt specifically with the needs of employees who suffer from bipolar disorder and the obligation of employers to accommodate them.
Mr. Dhir said the decision by the divisional court was also important because it recognized that mental disabilities often create fear and stereotyping. A person may have no limitations in everyday activities other than those created by prejudice and stereotypes, he said.
With files from Dan Robson