For 10 years, Terri-Lynn Garrie, an intellectually disabled woman, was paid $1.25 an hour for her work at a packaging company.
In what is being called a ground-breaking ruling by The Record, Garrie has been awarded $142,124 in lost wages, $19,613 in lost income for discriminatory termination, and $25,000 in compensation for “injury to her dignity, feelings and self respect.”
"I find that, objectively, the respondent's discriminatory pay practice was a serious violation of the (Ontario Human Rights) Code," tribunal vice-chair Ken Bhattacharjee wrote in his Feb. 28 ruling.
According to The Star, the ruling is believed to be the first time any tribunal or court has “looked at the issue of discriminatory pay for people with intellectual disabilities.”
Garrie is very happy with the decision.
“I’m very happy (the case) is over and done with. I don’t want to see this happen again to anyone else,” Garrie said.
The company, Janus Joan Inc., hired Garrie in 1999. She worked with ten other intellectually disabled employees, as well as with able-bodied employees who were performing essentially the same labor tasks.
The able-bodied workers earned minimum wage or more, Garrie and the disabled adults earned between $1.00 and $1.25 per hour.
It was not until Garrie was fired in 2009 that her mother, Marjorie Tibbs, filed a human-rights complaint on her daughter’s behalf. She claimed Garrie was let go because she was disabled. Tibbs’ complaint also included the unequal pay.
“Terri-Lynn loved that job. She rarely missed a day of work in 10 years,” Tibbs said. “She loved getting up in the morning. She would make her lunch and stand at the bus stop. She loved having something to do.”
Janus Joan Inc’s owner Stacey Szuch did not participate in the court hearings, but she did send a letter to the tribunal saying Garrie was a “trainee” and not an employee. As a trainee, she was paid $50 a week and could still collect her Ontario Disability Support Program payments.
Szuch also lays blame to Garrie’s mother, amongst others.
“If Janus Joan Inc. discriminated against the applicant, then the applicant’s mother, the social services agencies, the applicant’s support workers and the (ODSP) office were all co-discriminators,” Szuch wrote.
Szuch has since filed for bankruptcy, but Garrie’s lawyer, Mindy Noble of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, said the centre will “make every effort to try and collect.”
The human rights commission in Garrie’s province of St. Catharines is now being urged to determine if the practice of paying less than minimum wage is common; and if so, how to stop it from happening to others.
"What minimum wage legislation says is: Regardless of who you are, regardless of what you do for a job, regardless of how well you do that job, we think that this is the minimum any self-respecting human being should receive if they are working," Bhattacharjee said.