Canada: Human Rights Tribunal Finds Employer Liable Despite Finding No Discrimination

In the recent decision of Morgan v. Herman Miller Canada Inc., the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (the Tribunal) awarded an applicant 14 months' lost wages and $15,000 damages for injury to the applicant's dignity, feelings, and self-respect despite finding that the applicant suffered no discrimination under the Human Rights Code

The applicant, Aldeen Morgan (Mr. Morgan), was employed from July 2007 until his termination on March 30, 2010 as an installation scheduler with Herman Miller Canada Inc. (Herman Miller), a company in the furniture design and installation business. In this role, Mr. Morgan was responsible for scheduling and supervising subcontracted furniture installation crews. In or about February 2010, Mr. Morgan complained to a number of Herman Miller representatives that he had been experiencing discrimination during the course of his employment as a result of his being a "black man."  Mr. Morgan heard nothing further regarding his complaint and was terminated shortly thereafter for cause, allegedly for engaging in conversations with coworkers wherein he deliberately misrepresented the financial situation of the company and lowered employee morale.

Mr. Morgan subsequently launched a human rights claim against Herman Miller as well as Mr. Corrado Fermo (Mr. Fermo), who was the Vice-President of Finance/Operations and later a divisional President with Herman Miller during Mr. Morgan's employment. In his claim, Mr. Morgan specifically alleged that due to his colour he was routinely required to work outside of his regular assigned hours and to perform "menial" tasks. According to Mr. Morgan, such duties were given to him because Mr. Fermo thought it was Mr. Morgan's duty to act like a "servant" because he was a "black man." He also alleged that following a 2008 disciplinary incident he was unfairly put on probation and ignored by Mr. Fermo in light of his status as "black man." Mr. Morgan also pointed to another 2008 incident, whereby he complained to Herman Miller following his discovery of a company email that commented that a particular "all black" subcontracted furniture installation team looked like they were, "picked up off a street corner." He finally alleged that when he complained about his mistreatment he was ignored by Herman Miller and later terminated as a result of his complaint. 

The Tribunal's Findings as to Discrimination

In its decision, the Tribunal held that Mr. Morgan offered no evidence in support of his position that he was assigned menial tasks in a discriminatory manner.  In fact, the Tribunal held that as Mr. Morgan's role as installation scheduler was a new position, it was not unreasonable that the role could involve a range of tasks.  With respect to his probationary incident, Mr. Morgan had disclosed confidential business information to a subcontractor of Herman Miller which could have had serious business implications for Herman Miller.  As such, the Tribunal found there was no evidence to support Mr. Morgan's allegation that any fallout after such incident was due to his colour.  The Tribunal further disagreed with Mr. Morgan's allegations relating to the "all black" furniture installation team, as there was no evidence that there were any racial undertones to such email.  Instead, the comments related to the unprofessional nature of the installations team.  In addition, the comments in the email were merely repeating comments made by one of Herman Miller's clients. 

The Tribunal's Findings as to Herman Miller's Investigation and Mr. Morgan's Reprisal Claim

Despite these findings, however, the Tribunal held that Herman Miller was nonetheless liable for its inadequate investigation into Mr. Morgan's internal complaint and his termination shortly thereafter. 

With respect to the investigation, Mr. Morgan approached three (3) Herman Miller representatives with his concerns, including the human resources manager, yet he did not receive a formal response to such concerns and no representative of Herman Miller approached Mr. Morgan to address his concerns or to better understand them. Although Herman Miller's human resources manager communicated Mr. Morgan's complaint to Herman Miller's corporate headquarters in the United States, she heard nothing further on the matter and took no steps to follow up with the corporate office. The Tribunal held that as Mr. Morgan genuinely believed that he was subjected to differential treatment because of his colour, Herman Miller had a duty under the Human Rights Code to conduct a proper and diligent investigation into such allegations and failed to do so, which was an organizational failure.     

With regard to Mr. Morgan's termination, the Tribunal held that the reasons chosen by Herman Miller to establish cause were not credible and merely a pre-text to terminating his employment as a result of his complaint. In particular, while Mr. Morgan had engaged in conversations with his co-workers about the ongoing feasibility of Herman Miller, a number of other employees were having such conversations and Herman Miller never approached Mr. Morgan to insist that he cease such discussions or give him an opportunity to address the allegations.

Although Herman Miller also attempted to argue that a decision had been made to terminate Mr. Morgan's employment prior to his internal complaint, the Tribunal found that any evidence relating to the timing of Mr. Morgan's termination was inconsistent, and this argument was particularly weakened by the fact that Herman Miller attempted to raise this argument mid-hearing. It was not mentioned in its formal response to Mr. Morgan's allegations. As such, after examining the totality of the evidence the Tribunal held that the decision to terminate Mr. Morgan was a reprisal because he raised issues of harassment and discrimination. 

The Tribunal then turned to deciding the appropriate relief to grant Mr. Morgan. While Herman Miller did not take issue with Mr. Morgan's mitigation efforts, it argued that in light of his past misconduct Mr. Morgan likely would have been terminated at some point in the future and thus, any damages owing should have been accordingly reduced.  The Tribunal, however, dismissed this argument as speculative and awarded Mr. Morgan lost wages for the period of 14 months, equaling approximately $56,000. The Tribunal did not state in its decision what this 14 month period represented. He was also awarded $15,000 for damages for injury to his dignity, feelings, and self-respect as a result of the uncertainty and anxiety he faced following the raising of his internal complaint. Finally, the Tribunal ordered that Herman Miller and Mr. Fermo undergo human rights-related training. 

Our Views:

This decision demonstrates for employers the importance of properly conducting a diligent investigation into all human rights-related complaints raised by employees, notwithstanding the fact that there may be no merit to such complaints. Even where a particular complaint does not establish differential treatment on the basis of enumerated grounds, an employer can still be liable if it fails to fulfill its procedural obligations under human rights legislation.   

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.