Decision in McGill University Health Centre v Syndicat des employés de l’Hôpital général de Montréal

The Supreme Court of Canada rendered a judgment today in McGill University Health Centre (Montreal General Hospital) v Syndicat des employés de l’Hôpital général de Montréal, 2007 SCC 4. Deschamps J. (Binnie, LeBel, Fish, Charron and Rothstein JJ. concurring) wrote the majority judgment allowing the appeal while Abella J. (McLachlin C.J. and Bastarache J. concurring) gave concurring reasons.

The SCC case summary is quoted below:

Labour law — Collective agreement — Discrimination based on disability — Clause in collective agreement providing for administrative dismissal in case of extended absence due to illness — Employer’s duty to accommodate — Whether Appellant and/or its employers or employers’ association can predetermine extent of duty to accommodate — Whether duty to accommodate is without end — Whether each new event gives rise to new duty to accommodate — Whether Court of Appeal can intervene in arbitrator’s decision finding that employer reasonably accommodated worker — Whether there can be only one answer for decision to be correct.

The complainant, Alice Brady, had been employed by the Montreal General Hospital as a full-time medical secretary since 1985. On March 24, 2000, she stopped working as a result of exhaustion syndrome. She attempted a gradual return to work on four occasions, with her employer’s approval, but was unsuccessful. On July 28, 2002, the complainant was in a car accident that left her unemployable. Had it not been for the accident, she would have returned to work on September 9, 2002. On April 3, 2003, the Hospital terminated her employment, citing art. 12.11.5 of the collective agreement, which provided that, after an absence of 36 months, employees would lose their seniority and their employment if the absence was due to an illness or accident other than an occupational disease or an industrial accident. The Respondent union then filed a grievance asking the Hospital to review its decision and find a way to accommodate the complainant. The arbitrator dismissed the grievance on the basis that the employer had discharged its duty to accommodate by maintaining the employment relationship for 36 months, in accordance with the collective agreement. The Superior Court refused to review the decision. The Court of Appeal overturned the decision on the basis that the arbitrator could not apply the agreement blindly and was required to determine whether the employer had discharged its burden of proof with regard to the requested accommodation.

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