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Trans worker wins first human rights case

ONTARIO (Canadian OH&S News)


ONTARIO (Canadian OH&S News)

A landmark decision from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has ruled in favour of an employee undergoing a gender transition after she was fired from her position at a paper box packaging company.

Maria Vanderputten, who was hired at Mississauga-based Seydaco Packaging Corp., began hormone treatments to transition from a man to a woman during her employment. She was terminated for insubordination, according to her employers.

Though she declined to comment on the case itself, Vanderputten said in the decision that she suffered discrimination and that her employer did not accommodate her needs, such as using the women’s washroom.

The human rights agency determined that she was a victim of discrimination, and awarded her $22,000 and eight months pay.

The ruling is the first of its kind in the province. Last summer, the provincial government added “gender identity” and “gender expression” to its Human Rights Code, effectively making those markers forbidden means of discrimination and harassment.

In his decision, associate chair of the tribunal David A. Wright found that the company contributed to a poisoned work environment, which eventually led to her termination.

“In conclusion, I find that the applicant experienced harassment at Seydaco and that it failed to adequately investigate and respond to her allegations of discrimination…creating a poisoned work environment,” Wright said in the decision. “To ensure future compliance with the Human Rights Code, Seydaco should develop a formal rights human rights policy that includes a mechanism for complaints, and should ensure that all its managers are trained by an expert on their duties and responsibilities under the Code.”

Within six months of the ruling, Seydaco must provide training by a human rights expert to get their employees up to speed on human rights law and how to implement anti-harassment policies.

“At that time in 2003 when [Vanderputten] was hired and sort of had a gender on our employment form, and it was male. So we showed him the men’s washroom, and [said] ‘this is where you change, this is the locker room where you can keep your things,’” David Seychell, Seydaco’s president, recalled. “And then, for a period from 2008 and 2010, [Vanderputten] was revolting against that and wanting to use the women’s washroom. And in fairness to the female employees who were using the women’s washroom, and who found it distasteful, I said…As long as you can provide me with a legal or medical opinion, then I will accommodate your request.”

He went on to say that they have fully complied with the orders set out by the tribunal.

Dr. Nicola Brown is a psychologist in the gender identity service program at the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), where Vanderputten was undergoing treatment. Brown says her case offers validation for other employees transitioning on the job.

“I think it’s a really important decision that is going to give trans people more confidence if they’re backed by legislation that will protect them,” Brown opines. “Historically, people have had significant anxiety about getting employment, about keeping employment and unconvinced that their inclusion under the rubric of facts had much teeth to it.”

She went on to advise that any employers with employees undergoing a gender transition should use a direct and candid approach, and to show their support by letting staff know any forms of harassment or discrimination will not be tolerated.