This case concerned women’s access to pay equity in female-dominated workplaces.
LEAF intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada, in coalition with:
- The Equal Pay Coalition
- The New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity
In 1996, Québec passed the Pay Equity Act (the Act), which required all employers with ten or more employees to ensure pay equity for women by 2001. For most employers, this law meant they had to identify jobs done mostly by women and compare their salaries to the salaries for jobs done mostly by men in the same workplace. There was no method, however, for assessing pay equity adjustments where there was no male comparator in the workplace. It took until 2007 for this method to be established and for employers to be required to implement it.
Several unions challenged the six-year delayed access to pay equity, arguing that it breached theequality rights of women in workplaces without male comparators. The trial judge found that the delay did not violate s. 15 of the Charter, as the delayed access was based on the absence of a male comparator, not on sex. The Québec Court of Appeal agreed. The unions appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
LEAF, the Equal Pay Coalition, and the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity (the Equality Coalition)urged the Supreme Court to apply a robust equality analysis that recognized how systemic discrimination structures women’s work.
The Equality Coalition argued that the law distributed women’s rights based on the presence or absence of male-dominated job classes in the workforce. This reinforced the disadvantage of women working in female-dominated industries, which remain chronically underpaid relative to male-dominated industries. As a result, women had suffered more from systemic sex discrimination, segregated occupations, a deeply sex-segregated labour market, and deep devaluation of women’s work, were less entitled to remedies for systemic sex discrimination.
The Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the appeal and found that the delay was constitutional.
Five judges found that the women’s equality rights were breached and that delaying access to pay equity for this group of women was discriminatory because it continued their historic disadvantage in the workforce. However, four of those judges held that the breach was justified s. 1 of the Charter. The remaining four judges held that there was no s. 15 violation at all. A majority of the Court therefore upheld the law.
LEAF is grateful to Fay Faraday and Jan Borowy, counsel in this case, as well as Andrew Astritis, Ottawa agent for the Equality Coalition.
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].