WINNIPEG – Another court battle is looming for a health care aide in northern Manitoba who filed a human rights complaint after being fired for allegedly drinking alcohol.
Linda Horrocks was suspended from work in June 2011 at a personal care home in Flin Flon run by the Northern Regional Health Authority after a co-worker complained that she was drunk, according to evidence presented at a human rights board hearing.
She signed an agreement that allowed her to return to work under several conditions, including that she abstain from alcohol both on and off the job and seek counselling.
Horrocks was fired a year later when her employer received two reports that she had been drinking outside of work – once in a grocery store and once during a phone call with a manager.
Horrocks denied consuming alcohol and said she had been undergoing addiction counselling. She eventually filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.
Last year, an independent adjudicator ruled in favour of Horrocks, saying her alcohol addiction qualified as a disability – one which her employer failed to accommodate.
The ruling awarded Horrocks three years back pay and an additional $10,000 for injury to her dignity.
The health authority appealed the ruling to the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, which overturned the decision earlier this month.
Justice James Edmond ruled that because Horrocks was a unionized employee, the dispute should have been settled by an arbitrator – as spelled out in her collective agreement.
“Issues which involve interpretation, application, administration, or violation of the collective agreement … were intended to be resolved pursuant to the arbitration procedure set out in the collective agreement and the (Labour Relations) Act,” Edmond wrote in his decision.
The human rights commission announced this week it will appeal the ruling to the Manitoba Court of Appeal.
“This decision is serious for Ms. Horrocks, but the impact goes well beyond this one individual,” commission executive director Isha Khan said in a written statement.
“It could also limit options for all unionized workers in Manitoba to enforce their human rights. The decision has significant implications for how human rights are enforced in Manitoba.”