Stigmatizing mental-health issues costly for car dealership

This article was originally published by The Hamilton Spectator.

Patricia applied for a job as a mechanic with a car dealership.

During the interview, she told the employer she suffered from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and post traumatic stress disorder. She explained that when she was feeling anxious, she would talk to herself and engage in tapping things to maintain her focus and assuage her feelings of anxiety. She wanted to be upfront about how she was in the workplace because she wanted to be in an environment where she felt she could thrive.

Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case. Comments were made by her coworkers and boss about her being on medication and her boss told her she should take control of her life and live without medication. Of course, that was degrading as it implies Patricia’s condition was all in her head and that she shouldn’t be dependant on medically prescribed treatments. It stigmatized her mental-health issues and basically implied  that she was just being weak.

On a number of occasions, the service manager told her to stop making noise and to stop talking and misbehaving.

Patricia often found her opinion on the right approach to fix a vehicle was not accepted unless somebody else agreed with her. She felt this directly related to her gender since she would often be questioned by men who were not licensed mechanics like her. She was absent from work one day and was told that her coworkers and manager were taking bets as to whether she was off because of her menstrual cycle. She was paid less than the employer was advertising online when it was trying to hire another mechanic.

One day, she showed a picture of her daughter at her graduation accompanied by her boyfriend, and her boss made a racist comment. She spoke to the co-owner, who said he would speak to the manager. Soon after, her manager told her she would have to sign paperwork that she would never speak about her employment conditions to anyone.

Eventually, Patricia went off ill as a result of her toxic work environment. While she was off ill, the boss told her that when she came back she would have to spend two weeks completing repairs on vehicles she had screwed up, not get paid for those two weeks and then be let go.

When Patricia filed a human rights complaint, the employer claimed she never told them at her interview about her disabilities and therefore had lied. The company was unrepresented and wrote their own submissions. If they had talked to a lawyer, they would have realized an employee has no obligation to disclose a disability at the interview stage. If they are offered a job and accommodations are required, they would then bring it up to determine whether the employer could accommodate. In any case, the adjudicator decided they were lying.

Patricia filed a complaint for discrimination in her employment as a result of her treatment in the workplace and a separate complaint for a reprisal.

After Patricia filed the discrimination complaint, the employer contacted the governing body that deals with mechanics and complained about her. The complaints were dismissed as frivolous. Clearly the employer tried to retaliate as a result of having received the initial human rights complaint. Ultimately, the adjudicator found Patricia suffered poor treatment as a result of her disability and her gender. It was also found that the employer’s complaint to the mechanics’ governing body was a clear reprisal. Patricia was awarded more than $8,000 in lost wages, $30,000 in general damages for her treatment during her employment and $20,000 in general damages as a result of the frivolous complaint.

We would like to think that Patricia’s toxic work environment is a rarity in this day and age. Unfortunately, that is not the case. At least sometimes justice is done.

Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809
ecanning@rossmcbride.com