It is no surprise that women who aspire to leadership positions in their careers often face an uphill battle, especially when they experience racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and other forms of discrimination in combination with sexism.

In BC, a vital legal tool for chipping away at substantive inequality in employment is the Human Rights Code. But the Code is of limited value for leveling the playing field if it is narrowly interpreted.

In Schrenk v BC Human Rights Tribunal, the BC Court of Appeal limited the scope of human rights protection where discrimination occurs in a workplace. The Court dismissed a human rights complaint made concerning conduct at a construction site, in which the complainant and the respondent worked for different companies and the respondent was not in a position of power or authority over the work of the complainant.

In the Court’s judgment, workplace harassment and abusive conduct only amount to discrimination under the Code where the harasser is in a position of economic power over the victim, such as a supervisor.

West Coast LEAF has been granted leave to intervene in this case when it goes to the Supreme Court of Canada later this month. At the Supreme Court, West Coast LEAF will argue that power imbalances on the job are based not only on the economic hierarchy inherent in employment but also on inequalities that are deeply entrenched in our society such as sexism.

If the Court of Appeal decision is to stand, sexual harassment between colleagues would not be prohibited by human rights law; we say that harassment and discrimination in the workplace is wrong whether it comes from your boss, your coworker or an independent contractor.

Discrimination regarding employment is rooted not only in the hiring and supervision structures of workplaces, but also in the power structures of our society as a whole.

West Coast LEAF is proud to be speaking out in Canada’s highest court for an interpretation of human rights law that recognizes this reality and offers meaningful tools for confronting discrimination as it really plays out in our jobs and in our everyday lives.