On September 24, 2015, the BC Supreme Court struck down the
highest damages award that has ever been granted in a human rights
complaint in British Columbia for injury to dignity, feelings and
This case concerns a human rights complaint brought by Dr. Carl
Kelly against the University of British Columbia. Dr. Kelly had
been enrolled in UBC's Family Medicine Residency Program and
had been struggling to meet the training requirements in the
program due to his medically diagnosed conditions of attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder and non-verbal learning
disorder. UBC dismissed Dr. Kelly from the program after
having determined that he would not be able to successfully
complete the program or be successful in future practice.
On February 19, 2008 Dr. Kelly filed a complaint with the Human
Rights Tribunal alleging that UBC discriminated against him on the
basis of mental disability. The BC Human Rights Tribunal ruled in
favour of Dr. Kelly, finding that UBC had discriminated against him
by dismissing him from the program when it had not provided
reasonable accommodation of his disabilities to the point of undue
The Tribunal made a number of awards to compensate Dr. Kelly,
including an award of $75,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and
self-respect. This amount was more than double the previous high
watermark of $35,000 in similar cases of discrimination involving
mental or physical disability. In making this award the Tribunal
found that Dr. Kelly's circumstances were unique and serious,
which warranted a substantial award of damages.
UBC sought judicial intervention from the BC Supreme Court to
reverse both the finding of discrimination, as well as the various
damages awards that were granted to Dr. Kelly. All of the findings
and orders of the BC Human Rights Tribunal were upheld except for
its ground breaking award for injury to dignity, feelings, and
self-respect. The Court set aside this award on the basis that
there was no principled reason in Dr. Kelly's case that
justified such an exceptional award.
In striking down the $75,000 award, the Court rejected arguments
that Dr. Kelly's case involved unique circumstances. UBC
successfully argued that the Tribunal had placed undue emphasis on
the fact that Dr. Kelly was engaged in medical training and was
denied entry into his chosen profession. In so doing the Tribunal
was elevating awards for complainants who were engaged in
professional occupations as opposed to other types of
employment. The Court agreed that, while serious, there was
nothing inherently unique about Dr. Kelly's situation compared
to others who had lost their jobs or job opportunities as a result
of discrimination. The fact that Dr. Kelly was in a medical
program was not a reasonable basis for more than doubling the
previous highest awards for similar discriminatory conduct. As a
result, the award was set aside to be remitted back to the BC Human
Rights Tribunal to determine the appropriate amount for injury to
dignity, feelings, and self-respect.
Although the $75,000 award was found to be unreasonable, the
Court was also hesitant to comment on what an appropriate amount
should be, and left open the possibility that the Tribunal could
still make history by granting an award in excess of $35,000.
This case should continue to attract significant interest until a
final award is made for injury to dignity, feelings and
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