By: Christopher Nardi Via National Post
Jul 12, 2022 • 1 week ago • 4 minute read •
OTTAWA — A Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling excoriates Bell Canada and demands the company pay over $120,000 to a former employee who was fired because of unproven performance issues while he was recovering from cancer.
In May 2016, Glenn Luckman started a new job as business development manager for Bell Canada in Toronto.
That might have been the only happy moment in his brief time at the company, according to a new ruling by the human rights tribunal that demands Bell pay Luckman over $90,000 in lost wages, $15,000 for “pain and suffering” and a further $15,000 in damages due to its “reckless” conduct.
The ruling begins by laying out how difficult Luckman’s year and a half was from the moment he was hired leading up to his “discriminatory” firing.
“During his time at Bell, he cared for his ailing father until his passing in April 2017. Also in April 2017, Mr. Luckman was diagnosed with cancer. He started a medical leave in May 2017 and ultimately returned to work in November 2017. He was terminated less than a month later on December 6, 2017,” reads the ruling by tribunal member Alex G. Pannu.
“Yes. Mr. Luckman’s cancer was a factor in Bell’s decision to terminate him,” Pannu concluded.
During an interview, Luckman said he felt a wave of relief and a weight lift off his shoulders when he received the ruling nearly five years after he was fired.
“This totally felt like a David versus Goliath situation,” he said. “They really put me through the wringer… and dragged this out.”
Luckman first suspected something was wrong with his health in late 2016 when he found a lump in his groin. A few months later, he was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer (he first fought the disease in 2012) and the symptoms — “low energy, irritability, stomach pains and stress” — affected his work.
His stress was made all the worse because his father, to whom he was the sole caregiver, was simultaneously hospitalized and passed away shortly after.
Luckman first went on medical leave in early May 2017 to have eight lymph nodes removed and briefly returned to work on a “gradual” schedule five months later.
But despite the return-to-work plan set up by doctors and his insurance provider, Luckman said that he was quickly “bombarded” with calls from clients about the accounts he managed and was soon “overwhelmed” to the point of going back on leave.
One of his supervisors told the tribunal that he was “unaware” that Luckman’s clients were calling him and he had suggested Luckman return on sick leave after he raised concerns about his work volume. He did that in October.
Luckman attempted a second return to work in November and said he immediately felt “the same stresses as before” and that two of his managers were “cold to him.” He also argued that Bell did not offer to accommodate him during his return by offering him “a flexible schedule, remote work or additional resources,” reads the ruling.
Less than one month later, Bell fired him “as a result of changes in the organization,” arguing that the company was going through a restructuring.
“Mr. Luckman was the only employee from his team that was terminated,” Pannu noted.
Luckman filed a human rights complaint, claiming he was a victim of discrimination by Bell because he was fired due to his illness and with no real attempt by the employer to accommodate him.
At first, his bosses at Bell both claimed that Luckman was fired because he had negative performance reviews, despite key performance indicator reports listing him among the company’s top performers.
But Pannu noted that Bell changed its tune during hearings, suddenly stating in closing arguments that “Mr. Luckman’s performance was not a factor at all in his termination.” Instead, Bell claimed he was fired because he was “predestined” to be terminated during a restructuring regardless of performance.
“His performance was not substandard,” Pannu concluded.
Pannu also accused Bell of “cherry-picking” the evidence it presented during hearings to make Luckman look bad.
Ultimately the tribunal concluded that the way Bell treated Luckman was a “serious transgression” of the Canadian Human Rights Act and amounted to discrimination against someone with a medical disability.
Pannu ruled that Bell should pay Luckman lost wages up until the point he found a new job one year after his dismissal.
He also ordered Bell to compensate Luckman for the pain and suffering he endured throughout his last months at the company.
“They terminated an employee who was still recovering from cancer surgery. They made no inquiries as to whether his disability continued to affect his ability to work. In addition to the physical suffering and stress from his cancer recovery, Mr. Luckman was forced to endure the humiliation of being fired and being forced to find a new job on top of all his problems,” Pannu summarized.
Bell Canada did not respond to requests for a reaction to the ruling, including whether the company intended to ask for a judicial review.