In a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, in British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal v Schrenk, 2017 SCC 62, the Court ruled that a person can be liable for human rights discrimination against another person even though the two individuals are not working for the same employer.
In this case, Mohammadreza Sheikzadeh-Mashgoul ("MSM"), was an engineer employed by Omega Associates Engineering Ltd. ("Omega"). He was working on a road project where he was in charge of supervising employees of Clemas Contracting Ltd. ("Clemas"), who carried out the construction work.
MSM had immigrated to Canada from Iran and identified as Muslim. As alleged by MSM, Schrenk made discriminatory remarks towards him while working, including, "You are not going to blow us up with a suicide bomb are you?" Schrenk was also alleged to have called MSM a "fucking Muslim piece of shit" and asked him, "Are you going to call your gay friend?"
MSM reported Schrenk's conduct to both Omega and Clemas. Clemas eventually removed Schrenk from the project and eventually terminated his employment. MSM filed a human rights complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal against Shrenk and Clemas.
While Shrenk and Clemas argued that the British Columbia Human Rights Code ("Code") only protected employees against discrimination from workplace superiors, the Supreme Court of Canada disagreed. The Court ruled that the Code prohibits discrimination against employees whenever that discrimination has a sufficient nexus with the employment context. The Court stated, "this could include discrimination by their co-workers, even when those co-workers have a different employer."
For employees, they should know that they are protected from discrimination if it comes from co-workers on their same level, below them, and those not employed by the same employer. Further, the employer of the individual discriminator can be held liable for discrimination if it did not take sufficient steps to protect the employee.
For employers, they should ensure that they provide a discrimination-free environment, and take all complaints seriously.