This case concerned whether pregnancy discrimination was sex discrimination.
LEAF intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada.
Canada Safeway had a group insurance plan which provided benefits for loss of pay resulting from accident or sickness. The plan excluded pregnant women during a seventeen-week period around their expected due date. As a result, they could not receive benefits, even if they had a sickness completely unrelated to their pregnancy.
Susan Brooks, Patricia Allen, and Patricia Dixon all worked at Canada Safeway. All three became pregnant in 1982, and were not allowed to claim benefits under the insurance plan during the seventeen-week period. They filed complaints before the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, alleging sex discrimination. The Commission’s adjudicator dismissed the claims. The Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench and the Manitoba Court of Appeal upheld the dismissal.
LEAF argued that, given the then understanding of equality and the right to be free from discrimination, pregnancy discrimination had to be sex discrimination. For women as a group, pregnancy was not voluntary. If women were to enjoy equal opportunities to participate in society, there needed to be recognition of the social value of child bearing.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that pregnancy discrimination was a form of sex discrimination. It recognized that bearing children benefits society as a whole and that women should not be economically or socially disadvantaged due to their childbearing capacity. The Court also reaffirmed that discrimination can be found where not all members of a group experience differential treatment.
This was a landmark ruling which reflected a model of equality that addresses the biological, social and economic realities of women’s lives and requires that workplaces eliminate attitudes and practices that disadvantage women. In addition, the Supreme Court overturned their prior decision (Bliss v. A.G. Canada) which had held that pregnancy discrimination was not sex discrimination.
LEAF is grateful to Lynn Smith and Kathryn Thomson, counsel in this case.
Download LEAF’s 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].