A human rights tribunal has ordered an Ontario packaging company to pay nearly $187,000 to a developmentally disabled woman who was paid $1.25 an hour for years before being laid off along with all the other disabled people at the company.
Janus Joan Inc., of St. Catharines, Ont., was ordered to pay 45-year-old Terri-Lynn Garrie $142,000 in lost wages, plus nearly $20,000 in lost income due to being laid off and $25,000 in compensation for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect, according to the Law Times.
Garrie had been employed at Janus Joan packaging wine bottles.
"I find that, objectively, the respondent's discriminatory pay practice was a serious violation of the (Ontario Human Rights) Code," Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario vice-chair Ken Bhattacharjee wrote in a Feb. 28 ruling, according to the Toronto Star.
Garrie started working at the company in 1999, along with as many as 10 other disabled persons who were paid $1 an hour. The company eventually raised pay to $1.25 per hour.
According to Garrie’s complaint, “the general labourers who did not have developmental disabilities were paid at the minimum wage level or higher.”
The complaint said the company fired Garrie in October of 2009, and fired all the remaining disabled employees within a month, while continuing to employ non-disabled workers.
Ontario's minimum wage is $10.25 an hour, and will be rising to $11 per hour in June. The company argued its pay to disabled workers was a “training honorarium” and said workers were free to look at magazines or play cards during work time.
Writing at the Law Times, Glenn Kauth notes the company effectively relied on a taxpayer subsidy to pay its disabled workers the low wage. “Ontario Disability Support Program benefits … effectively subsidized the discriminatory wage,” he wrote.
Garrie may have a hard time collecting her money, Kauth noted, because Janus Joan Inc. appears to have shut, though another company with a similar name has begun operations.
The tribunal had initially rejected Garrie's claim for back pay, arguing that because her employment there started in 1999, the complaint brought in 2012 was too old. But the tribunal reversed that decision last fall, and issued a new ruling last week.
Garrie was "thrilled" with the decision, according to the Star.
"I'm very happy (the case) is over and done with," she said in a phone interview. "I don't want to see this happen again to anyone else."