Court of Appeal rules B.C. Supreme Court can decide if Human Rights Tribunal parties settled

The B.C. Court of Appeal recently ruled that the B.C. Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to not only enforce a settlement reached through the Human Rights Tribunal process, but also to hear and decide on ancillary issues.

These issues include:

  • Whether the parties settled;
  • The terms of that settlement; and
  • Whether a party breached the settlement.

The human rights complaint

The appellant, who was employed and then fired by the respondent, filed a human rights complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal. The parties negotiated a settlement agreement, but the appellant backed out and refused to sign.

B.C. Supreme Court has jurisdiction

The respondent petitioned the B.C. Supreme Court for an order enforcing the settlement agreement under s. 30(1) of the Human Rights Code. The appellant, for her part, argued that she had never agreed to the settlement and that the B.C. Supreme Court only had jurisdiction to enforce an agreement but not to decide whether an agreement existed in the first place.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled that it did have jurisdiction to decide whether an agreement exists, but the appellant appealed that ruling.

The Court of Appeal confirmed the Supreme Court’s decision. The Court found, at paragraph 30, that in order for the Supreme Court to exercise an enforcement power under s. 30(1), it needs to have the authority to settle antecedent questions like “whether a settlement agreement exists, the terms of that agreement, and whether it has been breached.”

Key takeaways for employers

Employers should ensure they do not back out of or unilaterally vary the terms of a settlement agreement reached through a Human Rights Tribunal process. Doing so opens the door to having the matter heard before the Supreme Court instead of just the administrative tribunal.

The Supreme Court, under s. 30(1) of the Human Rights Code, can enforce that agreement and make any findings needed in order to exercise that enforcement including whether the parties had come to an agreement.

Placing such a matter before the Supreme Court also opens employers to the risk that the Court will order costs. Costs awards are rare at the Human Rights Tribunal but are far more common before the B.C. Supreme Court.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.