This appeal concerned the validity of workplace policies which systematically excluded women from employment.
LEAF, with the involvement of West Coast LEAF, intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada, in coalition with:
- DisAbled Women’s Network Canada (DAWN)
- Canadian Labour Congress
Tawney Meiorin was a female firefighter with the British Columbia Ministry of Forests. She had worked in the field for over two years and received positive reviews. After the government developed mandatory fitness tests, Ms. Meiorin was fired despite passing all but one test. She grieved her dismissal, and was reinstated by the arbitrator. The British Columbia Court of Appeal allowed the government’s appeal. Ms. Meiorin’s union appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
LEAF argued that systemic discrimination could only be addressed by looking at the underlying norms that shape workplace rules. In the interests of combatting systemic discrimination and reflecting the growing number of working women, employers needed to develop practices including standards and tests that accurately reflected and accommodated the interests, needs and circumstances of women.
LEAF also argued for the adoption of a new unified framework in considering whether discrimination was justified, with a focus on whether the employer could demonstrate that they could not avoid the discriminatory impact on the individual or group. In this case, the test was discriminatory and unjustified. It did not contemplate the different capacities between women and men, and the government had failed to show why the test was specifically necessary.
The Supreme Court of Canada allowed the appeal, and reinstated Ms. Meiorin to her position. The Court also adopted a unified framework for considering discrimination. The Court held that employers could justify standards by showing that:
- The standard served a purpose rationally connected to the performance of the job
- The standard was adopted in an honest and good faith belief that it was necessary to fulfil legitimate, work-related purposes
- The standard was reasonably necessary to the accomplishment of that legitimate, work-related purpose (i.e. employers would need to show it would be impossible to accommodate the claimant without imposing undue hardship on the employer)
LEAF is grateful to Kate Hughes and Melina Buckley, counsel in this case, as well as Carole Brown, Ottawa agent for LEAF.
Download the factum here.
Read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision here.
Our records are imperfect, but we are doing our best to update them – if you were involved with LEAF on this case but your name is not reflected here, please email us at [email protected].