This case is about the ongoing struggle to have women’s reproductive work fully recognized, and to ensure that all benefit schemes for parents and pregnant women are consistent with the requirements of substantive equality. The central legal issue in this case is whether a government employer who provides benefits to women who give birth and to other parents must do so in a substantively equal manner. The Appellant, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, filed a grievance on behalf of its membership as a whole against the Surrey School Board. Under the Surrey School Board benefits plan, birth mothers are given 15 weeks of Supplemental Employment Benefits (SEB) to cover pregnancy, birth, post-partum recovery and care-giving, and must choose how to allocate that benefit before and after the baby is born. Other parents who qualify under the SEB plan are given 15 weeks of SEB plan benefits for care-giving alone. Arbitrator Hall concluded that the exclusion of birth mothers from parental leave SEB benefits breaches the substantive equality rights of birth mothers, but this decision was appealed and overturned at the B.C. Court of Appeal.
West Coast LEAF’s Involvement
West Coast LEAF was granted leave to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada to argue that where an employer offers a benefit scheme for pregnant women and new parents, that scheme must recognize the significance of both child bearing and child rearing to the important work of social reproduction. To deny additional time and resources to pregnant women means that birth mothers will disproportionately bear the burden of social reproduction.
The case was heard at the Supreme Court of Canada on November 12, 2014. In an extremely rare situation, the decision was handed down from the bench, in favour of the BCTF.