A 2013 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal provided helpful
guidance to employers while overturning a trial judge's
decision which found that Yohann Johnson had been constructively
dismissed due to racism and a poisoned work environment.
An employee had refused to attend training with Johnson for
reasons related to an incident in the past where Johnson had
laughed at a joke allegedly about the employee's brother's
murder. A third party employee told Johnson that the employee
had refused to train with Johnson because the employee's
brother had been murdered by a black man, and Johnson was
black. Johnson made complaints of racism which resulted in
three separate investigations by GM, none of which found that there
was racially motivated conduct.
Johnson eventually came to view the workplace as a poisoned work
environment. He took an approved medical leave under the care
of a psychiatrist and claimed he was disabled due to discriminatory
treatment caused by racism in his workplace. After two years of
leave, GM's physician found that Johnson was able to return to
work. Johnson demanded a position in one of two locations
where he would not encounter certain employees related to his
complaints. GM was unable to accommodate his request, but did
offer him positions in other locations where he would not encounter
the individuals. Johnson did not return to work, and GM
deemed him to have resigned.
The trial judge found that Johnson had been the victim of racist
behaviour, a poisoned work environment, and that GM's actions
amounted to constructive dismissal. The Court of Appeal overturned
the trial decision on all counts, finding that while Johnson may
have genuinely believed that he had been the victim of racism in
his workplace and that his perception may have led to stress and
mental anguish, the facts did not support these findings.
The key message here: a person's subjective
view that they've suffered a particular kind of discrimination
is not determinative of the question.
General Motors of Canada Limited v. Yohann Johnson, 2013
ONCA 502 (released July 31, 2013)
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