General damages awarded by human rights tribunals are intended
to compensate for discrimination and to act as a deterrent.
The Alberta Human Rights Act provides no statutory
limit on how much general damages can be awarded. However, in the
past general damages awarded by the Human Rights Tribunal of
Alberta (the "Tribunal") generally ranged from $3,000 to
a top end "cap" of $10,000.
This has changed since the Alberta Court of Appeal decision in
2013 of Walsh v. Mobil Oil Canada. In Walsh, the
court stressed that inadequate damage awards undermined the mandate
of human rights legislation to recognize and affirm that all
persons are equal, and to protect against and compensate for
discrimination. The court concluded that low damage awards could
actually perpetuate discriminatory conduct.
Beginning in 2015 there has been a notable trend towards higher
general damages awards, and the Tribunal has issued a number of
decisions awarding general damages in the range of $10,000 to
In Amir and Nazar v. Webber Academy Foundation the
Tribunal found that it was not undue hardship to allow Muslim
students to pray during the school day in a secular private school,
and awarded general damages of $12,000 and $14,000 to each
Similarly, in Andric v. 585105 Alberta Ltd. o/a Spasation
Salon & Day Spa, the Tribunal found that the employer had
unjustifiably changed the complainant's position and work
location of 10 years after she was assaulted by a co-worker. The
Tribunal concluded that the shared religious beliefs between the
co-worker who assaulted the complainant and the employer were a
factor in the respondent's decision to transfer the
complainant. The complainant was awarded general damages of $15,000
and lost wages for a 24 month period.
More recently, on July 5, 2016 the Tribunal issued its decision
in Thu Hien Pham v. Vu's Enterprise Ltd. o/a La Prep,
which continued this trend of higher general damage awards. The
complainant, Ms. Pham was awarded $15,000 in general damages by the
Tribunal, who found that Ms. Pham had been harassed by her former
employer. On awarding $15,000 in general damages, the Tribunal
chair noted that "it was important to ensure that damages are
not so low as to trivialize the protection of human rights",
and "[w]hile I may have been inclined to consider a greater
amount...this was the amount requested by the Director and the
Accordingly, employers can expect to see larger awards in the
future for both general damages and loss of income, and should not
discount the risks and exposure of a human rights complaint.
These decisions of the Human Rights Tribunal of Alberta can be
Amir and Nazar v. Webber Academy
Foundation, 2015 AHRC 8 (currently under appeal):
Andric v. 585105 Alberta Ltd. o/a
Spasation Salon & Day Spa, 2015 AHRC 14:
Pham v. Vu's Enterprises
Ltd., 2016 AHRC 12:
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