A Chilliwack non-profit agency discovered that being a charity isn’t a get-out-of-jail card when it comes to human rights.
No hearing has yet been held on the substantive complaint, but a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled earlier this month against Chilliwack’s PEARL Life Renewal Society’s application to dismiss a complaint from a former employee.
PEARL is less than three years old, and works to help sexually exploited women turn their lives around.
Virginia Pineda started working for PEARL in September 2017. In January 2018 after a performance review she was either fired or quit — a matter of dispute between the parties — and claims she was discriminated against based on a mental disability contrary to the Human Rights Code.
The details of the complaint have not yet been outlined, but the decision from August 9, 2019 related to PEARL’s application to dismiss the matter before it has been heard.
Pineda was hired as a co-ordinator and she claims she told PEARL’s executive director Joan Goosen about her psychological conditions that include anxiety, depression, panic attacks, agoraphobia and an eating disorder.
“The parties disagree on whether Ms. Pineda disclosed her mental disability at hiring,” according to the decision written by tribunal member Grace Chen.
It was agreed that Pineda was taking medication for her psychological conditions, and also agreed that she received positive feedback during her employment. Goosen, however, said Pineda was not a “good fit” “because she had a negative attitude towards her work and Ms. Goosen.”
Pineda insists she was terminated, and filed the complaint against PEARL alleging the non-profit discriminated against her in employment based on a mental disability contrary to section 13 of the Human Rights Code.
PEARL then filed the application to dismiss under two sections of the Code: one that the complaint does not allege acts that contravene the Code; and two, that the complaint was filed for improper motives or in bad faith.
“PEARL submits Ms. Pineda lacked professionalism, breached confidence, and had a poor attitude which were grounds for dismissal. Her employment ended because of these factors, not because of any discrimination.”
On the first reason for dismissing the complaint, Chen ruled against PEARL in that Pineda is not required to provide evidence yet. If proven, the allegations could indeed be in violation of the Human Rights Code so there is no reason to dismiss in advance.
On the second dismissal application, bad faith, Chen wrote in her decision that the respondent must meet a high standard for the Tribunal to dismiss a complaint.
“These applications are rarely successful.”
PEARL submitted that Pineda’s lawyer planted the idea of a human rights complaint in her, but Chen ruled this is normal and is nothing more than seeking legal advice. It is not an improper motive.
Whether or not Pineda quit or was fired, also does not mean the complaint was made in bad faith, Chen ruled.
PEARL also argued that Pineda got a settlement in small claims for wrongful dismissal and is now seeking more money. PEARL argued that Pineda disrespects the mission and values of PEARL, caused stress and loss of donor money.
It was here that Chen made it clear that being a non-profit does not mean an organization can violate human rights.
”There is no doubt PEARL does important work with a vulnerable group, but non-profit organizations do not have special status that inoculates them from discrimination complaints. There is nothing intrinsically improper about filing a discrimination complaint against a non-profit organization. PEARL’s non-profit status is irrelevant to whether Ms. Pineda had improper motives or filed the complaint in bad faith.”
Tribunal member Chen ruled against PEARL’s dismissal application, which means the hearing will go ahead at a future date. She reiterated in the decision that allowing the complaint to proceed only means PEARL has not provided sufficient evidence at this stage to justify dismissing the complaint. It does not mean Pineda will necessarily be successful at a hearing.