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Ex-worker Wins Rights Fight
Commission discriminated against him, probe finds
By: Aldo Santin
21/06/2009 1:00 AM |
Victor Schwartzman filed a human rights complaint against the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, where he once worked as an investigator.
The Manitoba Human Rights Commission has been found to have discriminated against one of its former employees.
A seven-month investigation by the Ontario Human Rights Commission concluded that the Manitoba Human Rights Commission was wrong when it refused to acknowledge that one of its former investigator’s medical condition constituted a disability.
Victor Schwartzman, 63, had been an investigator with the MHRC for 21 years, helping people who claimed they’d been victims of discrimination.
By his own admission, Schwartzman is overweight and suffers from high blood pressure.
Schwartzman said that the stress of his job led to high blood pressure and the prescribed medication to treat the condition made it difficult for him to stay awake or alert at work.
Schwartzman spent three years asking his bosses for a lighter workload — to reduce the stress and the need for medication — a position supported by his doctors, but the MHRC refused to recognize his condition as a disability and insisted he take on a regular caseload like all the other investigators.
“It just can’t be me suffering from a medical condition like this and I’ve lost my job because of it,” Schwartzman said.
Schwartzman filed a human rights complaint against his bosses in January 2008.
Because it would have been improper for the Manitoba Human Rights Commission to investigate a complaint against itself, the case was handed over to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which assigned the job to its legal director, Hart Schwartz.
Schwartzman took early retirement last summer when the MHRC refused to alter its position on his workload.
At the end of October, Schwartz concluded that Schwartzman had been discriminated against because the bosses at the MHRC were relying on an out-dated definition of what constitutes a medical disability when it refused his requests for a reduced workload and forced him to quit his job.
Schwartz also found that senior officials at the MHRC disputed the recommendations of Schwartzman’s doctor because they simply didn’t like what they heard, and not because they had any medical evidence to the contrary.
Schwartz said that Schwartzman’s medical condition makes it impossible for him to continue as an investigator but he said the MHRC had failed to offer Schwartzman another position at the commission or help him find another job within the Manitoba civil service.
“In Ontario, an employee with a disability is supposed to be placed in a pool and they are to be looked to first when a vacant job becomes available which they may be capable of performing,” Schwartz wrote.
Schwartz recommended that the issue be resolved through mediation but Schwartzman said that recently broke down when the MHRC offered to rehire him on a temporary basis as a retiree with no benefits.
Schwartzman is insisting on getting his job back, back wages with interest, and punitive damages.
Schwartzman said that he suspects there are many employers and their human resources departments in the province that are forcing their employees to quit their jobs because of a medical condition that’s not being recognized as a disability.
“The Manitoba Human Rights Commission should have made an accommodation for me and they didn’t and they were found to be wrong,” Schwartzman said.
Schwartzman has now asked the Ontario Human Rights Commission to refer the dispute to a court-like proceeding known as a tribunal.
Complaints against two senior commission officials were dismissed. Schwartzman’s original complaint was amended because the MHRC and the Government of Manitoba are not legal entities. In their place, the complaint named Her Majesty the Queen in right of Manitoba.
A spokeswoman for the MHRC said the dispute is essentially a labour relations issue that must be addressed by the provincial government.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has refused to comment, citing privacy concerns and the need to stay neutral.