Legal News

9/11 Discrimination Leads to Employer Liability

The BC Human Rights Tribunal recently determined that a man suspected by co-workers of having been involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was subjected to discrimination in his employment contrary to the Human Rights Code.

The employee, Mr. Asad, was an Arab Muslim who had recently immigrated to Canada from Saudi Arabia. In late August, 2001, he visited several cities including New York and Washington DC. After the attacks, a co-worker became suspicious of him based, the Tribunal said, on racial profiling combined with a highly active imagination. The co-worker shared her suspicions with other co-workers, made discriminatory remarks about race and religion to Mr. Asad, and ultimately reported him to the RCMP as someone who might have been involved in the 9/11 attacks. The RCMP investigated and ultimately cleared Mr. Asad of any wrong-doing.

The Tribunal found that the employer discriminated against Mr. Asad in his employment. Although the employer could not be held liable for the co-worker’s independent decision to report Mr. Asad to the RCMP, it became vulnerable when the co-worker also made her suspicions known to the President of the company and the Director of Human Resources. In choosing to simply accept and agree with the co-worker’s suspicions rather than conducting an independent investigation, the employer contributed to the cloud of suspicion surrounding Mr. Asad. The Tribunal concluded that by failing to take proactive measures to allay these unfounded suspicions, the employer left Mr. Asad to fend for himself in a poisoned work environment. The employer could have instructed his co-workers that Mr. Asad was to be presumed innocent of any wrongdoing and treated accordingly. The employer could also have offered Mr. Asad assistance or referred him to a professional counselling service or provided anti-harassment or sensitivity training to employees.

The Tribunal awarded Mr. Asad $6,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect. However, the adjudicator observed that this was an egregious case of discrimination in light of the insensitivity and lack of care exhibited by the company’s senior management and that a higher award would have been made had Mr. Asad sought additional damages.

(Click here for copy of Decision)