Human Rights Office

Human Rights Office
Human Rights Office

Portman v. Union of Northern Workers (UNW) 2014 NT HRAP 49096 (CanLII)

Summary:

At the time of the alleged incident, Ms. Portman was an employee of the Government of the Northwest Territories and therefore a member of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW). In 1999, Ms. Portman was diagnosed with MS. It affects her energy and mobility. After experiencing some difficulties related to disability/accommodation with the UNW, Ms. Portman decided she would draft and present resolutions regarding disability/accommodation at the upcoming UNW Local 1 meeting, to be held at the UNW headquarters. The room in which the meeting was to take place was located up approximately 14 stairs. The effects of Ms. Portman’s MS make it difficult to ascend and descend stairs. In an effort to make the UNW headquarters more accessible, an electric ‘stair-lift’ accessible only through a locked, rear, alleyway entrance had been previously installed. In Ms. Portman’s view the locked, rear, alleyway entrance equipped with a stair-lift was an unsuitable accommodation for persons with disabilities. Upon learning where the meeting was to take place, Ms. Portman suggested that the meeting be moved to an alternative, more accessible location (the Public Service of Alliance of Canada (PSAC) offices located several blocks away). Upon receiving this request, the President of UNW invited Ms. Portman to meet with him to discuss her concerns. Mr. Portman was advised by the National Disabilities Representative not to meet with the President on her own. Under this advisement, Ms. Portman and the President of UWN never met in-person. Instead they corresponded with each other via e-mail. Through e-mail the President of UNW informed Ms. Portman that the star-lift at Headquarters accommodated her needs and he declined to move the meeting. Ms. Portman did not attend this meeting. After this incident Ms. Portman filed her complaint with the Tribunal.

Question(s) to be Determined:

  1. Did the UNW unlawfully discriminate against Ms. Portman?
  2. Did the UNW accommodate Ms. Portman’s disability?

Findings:

  1. Did the UNW unlawfully discriminate against Ms. Portman?

  YES

  1. Did the UNW accommodate Ms. Portman’s disability?

  NO

Reasoning:

  1. Did the UNW unlawfully discriminate against Ms. Portman?

It was found that by failing to accommodate Ms. Portman’s disability, the UNW unlawfully discriminated against her.

  1. Did the UNW accommodate Ms. Portman’s disability?

In this case it was found that UNW did not accommodate Ms. Portman’s disability. The adjudicator in this case said the following:

“The UNW failed to accommodate procedurally and then dug-in-its-heels rather than seriously consider any other reasonable options, including the one proposed by Ms. Portman. The President, who made the decision on behalf of the UNW, believed the offered accommodation was reasonable. His conduct amounted to ignoring her request for alternative accommodation” (para 91).

Remedies:

In this case Ms. Portman was awarded $10,000 for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect. It was also ordered that UNW cease discrimination against persons with disabilities who wish to obtain the services available at Headquarters and to refrain from committing the same or similar contravention.

In addition, UNW was ordered and directed to provide access to services to its members in a non-discriminatory manner and at such location or locations that meet or exceed the accessibility requirements in the current National Building Code.