Almost $200k damages for underpaid disabled woman

Paid just $1.25 an hour for 10 years – What was HR thinking?

Almost $200k damages for underpaid disabled woman
An Ontario packaging company will pay $142,124 in lost wages to an intellectually disabled woman who was paid $1.25 an hour as a labourer packaging wine bottles for export.

Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal also awarded Terri-Lynn Garrie $19,613 in lost income for discriminatory termination and $25,000 in compensation for “injury to her dignity, feelings and self respect.”

The case could also see widespread investigations throughout the province, as the tribunal urges the human rights commission to determine if the practice of paying less than minimum wage is widespread, and if so, to advise the province on how to stop it.

“I find that, objectively, the respondent’s discriminatory pay practice was a serious violation of the Code,” tribunal vice-chair Ken Bhattacharjee wrote in his Feb. 28 ruling.

“Minimum wage legislation . . . tells us something about how we perceive self-worth and human worth,” he said, quoting University of Alberta law professor Gerald Robertson.

“What minimum wage legislation says is: Regardless of who you are, regardless of what you do for a job, regardless of how well you do that job, we think that this is the minimum any self-respecting human being should receive if they are working.”

Garrie was hired in 1999 at the packaging company, where she and up to 10 other intellectually disabled adults worked alongside able-bodied employees doing essentially the same general labour tasks, the tribunal heard.

While the able-bodied workers earned minimum wage or more, Garrie and the other disabled adults were paid between $1 and $1.25 an hour, the tribunal found. Garrie and her family assumed the wage disparity was legal, but launched a human rights complaint in October 1999 when Garrie was fired.

Janus Joan Inc. owner Stacey Szuch claimed Garrie and other workers were trainees, not employees, and were paid an honorarium. Shortly after Tibbs launched the case, Szuch filed for bankruptcy and told the tribunal her business had closed.

Barbara Hall, chief commissioner for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, told The Star she welcomed the ruling.

“The fact that we intervened in the first place shows we are really concerned about this issue and the seriousness with which the tribunal took it is very important,” she said.

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