Author Dylan Hill

Author Dylan Hill

Testing Credibility

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A case involving termination following an investigation.

One of the most challenging issues in dealing with harassment and discrimination investigations can be determining the distinction between a complaint filed in good faith, yet ultimately unsupported by the evidence and a case filed in bad faith, (or maliciously), with the intent to mislead and to cause damage to a respondent and the organization. I have researched a case that presents some compelling considerations.

The case1 comes from the healthcare field in Alberta and involves the termination of an employee following an investigation into a complaint she filed. The investigation was conducted by an external investigator and the findings were that the complaints were baseless in their entirety and without merit and that the complainant deliberately exaggerated her concerns.

Acting on the investigator’s recommendation, the employer terminated the employee. They concluded that the complainant brought forward groundless allegations, and actively encouraging others to do likewise, and thereby breached the trust relationship with the employer. The union filed a grievance and an arbitration occurred.

The union contended there was no just cause for discipline with regard to the grievor’s conduct. It argues the grievor did not act in bad faith; rather, she believed she was being treated unfairly and inappropriately, and her beliefs were a matter of perception, not bad faith.

The arbitration panel (the panel) stated the decision came down to an assessment as to whether the grievor made complaints against her manager in bad faith and without reasonable grounds.

In assessing credibility, the investigator and the panel referred to the seminal case of Faryna v. Chorny2, which is now over 65 years old, but is still cited as the standard for assessing credibility. If you have time, head over to that case at page 356-57 to read the full text.

The investigator had laid out several factors that influenced her decision related to credibility and ultimately the panel accepted her assessments. They are (summarized): 1. inconsistencies of the complainant’s statements with those of other employees interviewed, 2. expansion of the complaint essence to include allegations of physical threat where none existed previously, 3. internal inconsistencies with the complainant’s information, 4. exaggerated and inflated descriptions of the respondent’s conduct, 5. failure to distinguish between hearing something or thinking something and an actual event, 6. evidence that the complainant had made comments that she hated the respondent, 7. a number of statements that were contradicted by others.

While the union argued that the grievor’s allegations were based on her honestly held perceptions, the panel disagreed and stated the following rationale: “Perception must be reasonable and must be based on the truth. To do otherwise would absolve inappropriate conduct merely because a person states they firmly believe their perceptions to be accurate. For instance, a completely innocent action by someone, wrongly perceived by another as inappropriate, could result in very serious consequences for the innocent party without recourse to the person who wrongly perceived the action as inappropriate; a sideways glance may be perceived as sexual abuse; a misheard statement could be perceived as harassment or abuse. Clearly, perception must be based on the truth and whether someone is telling the truth requires an assessment of credibility when actions, statements, and perceptions are at variance.”

In the end, the panel was satisfied the grievor went beyond making unsubstantiated or unfounded claims. Rather, they felt, the grievor exaggerated and embellished her claims to such an extent that her claims “…are without reason and reckless; we find her claims, and perceptions, lack credibility. For the following reasons, we reject her evidence when in dispute with others. First, we accept and adopt the factual findings and credibility conclusions of the Investigator. Second, we find the Grievor expanded her stories well beyond merely filling in the gaps…Lastly, the plausibility of the Grievor’s perception of events is unreasonable and unsupportable. There must be rationality on a reasonableness standard and her perception does not meet that standard.”

The panel pointed out specific concerns with the grievor’s description of a meeting, which changed quite dramatically when she was interviewed by the investigator. In the first telling, she claimed the respondent yelled at her and was looking at her with hatred in his face and she, “put her hands up.” In the investigator’s notes and then again in her report, it says she put her hands up “and said that she was only suggesting, was not disrespecting him, and was just giving her opinion because she has worked in other hospitals where she has seen proper training and what is acceptable.” 

The panel stated, “As we find above, her description of raising her hands in this context suggests it was an attempt to get a word in edge-wise because (the respondent) was speaking quite quickly and was not giving her an opportunity to speak.”

The panel stated, “Before us, she again changed her story. This time, not only was (the respondent) yelling and obviously angry, she was very concerned he was going to, or could, hit her. She clarified that she put up her hands to ward off potential blows that she believed could be coming from (the respondent).”

The panel was “…satisfied the Grievor lacks credibility and she deliberately embellished and exaggerated her allegations for the purpose of causing harm to the Manager.”

The panel turned to a question I find to be central to any attempt to conclude on a credibility assessment; the difference between an honestly held opinion and a complaint made in bad faith. They stated, “…a distinction must be drawn between a complaint that is not substantiated and one that is made in bad faith. Bad faith requires an improper motive…We specifically have found the Grievor exaggerated and embellished with the intent of causing harm to her manager. She acted in bad faith in doing so.”

The termination was upheld and the grievance was dismissed.

What do you think about this case? Have you had cases that are similar and that required you to navigate these issues? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the case!


1. HSAA and Capital Care Group Inc., Re 2018 CarswellAlta 2575, [2019] A.W.L.D. 530, [2019] A.W.L.D. 531, 138 C.L.A.S. 88.

2. Faryna v. Chorny (1951), [1952] 2 D.L.R. 354 (B.C. C.A.)

The Winds of Change – The Sexual Harassment Cycle

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With many high profile sexual harassment cases making headlines, will we finally see lasting change?

As I watch the events unfold in the media, like a lot of you, I find myself wondering if this time, finally, things might change a little bit. I have watched with interest as members of the media and Hollywood elite speak out, and form the currents of what I hope to be social change.

I can’t help but have two thoughts: 1. Is this the current expression of a cycle that has been playing out historically for longer then we care to think? And if so, what can we learn; and 2. If making change and speaking out is such an uphill battle for this section of our society, what is it like for those without the access to support.

As I contemplate question 1, I recall my own career and journey in the area of Harassment and Discrimination investigator and trainer. I recall that when my Mother set up this consulting business, another series of public events were playing out quite publicly; the Anita Hill matter. I see that many of the issues are eerily similar. At the time I was graduating from High School and I can recall turning in an assignment on Harassment in the workplace, a topic not then readily discussed. Since that time, both my Mother and I have dedicated much of our lives to the proper investigation of Harassment cases in the workplace. We have completed more investigations than we can easily recall and have interviewed thousands of people about all manner of allegation. We have trained several cohorts of the brightest Human Resources professionals in this Country. The work has been very rewarding.

A few years ago, I was even lulled into thinking that maybe society had finally made some change; I was receiving far less sexual harassment investigation requests. I was optimistic. Now, I am not so sure. For the past few years, we have seen a mounting acceleration of high profile cases. The same themes are presenting themselves once again. I wonder, are we back to the same old territory we found ourselves in then?

Question 2 is equally tricky for me. On the one hand I believe that as discourse on the topic increases, as the headlines appear and become part of the collective, so too does the ability for those subjected to sexual harassment to report the issue, where they once may have not. I’m not sure if that is overly optimistic of me, I would like to believe that this is true, but deep down I know that there are many, have been many and will be many instances of injustice and abuse that are simply never reported or dealt with effectively. Power imbalance plays a central role. Unless and until that is effectively mitigated in the companies we work in and indeed the very fabric of our society, it is hard to see a clear path to effective change. When one party holds all the cards, what hand can a victim play?

It is with these thoughts in mind that I will continue to pursue my goal of conducting fair, balanced, unbiased workplace Harassment and Discrimination investigations and I will continue to throw myself into training our leaders to do the same. That is my hand to play and I intend to play it well. I hope to see you soon at a training event!

Out of Time

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Two cases which illustrate the reasoning applied when a Human Rights Tribunal considers whether a complaint was filed too late:

Case 1:

In this case, the Human Rights Tribunal considered the timeliness of a complaint filed, alleging discrimination in employment on the basis of sex (harassment). The employer denied the discrimination and applied to dismiss the compliant on several grounds. The allegations were serious in nature, including sexual innuendo, personal questions, name calling, jokes and comments about other women, as well as unwelcome physical contact. The complainant alleged that despite a number of reports and complaints, the employer took no appropriate action. The complainant alleged retaliation as well to the extent that she required extended medical leave. She filed a written internal complaint in January 2014. She was not provided with the report, no corrective action ensued and she was not provided with accommodation to return to work safely. The complainant indicated that she was dismissed in September 2014.

The employer provided evidence as to the external investigation conducted and offers to share the report of the internal investigation (subject to confidentiality provisions), which the complainant refused. They submitted that the allegations were found not substantiated, and that the complainant had been asked to return to work, yet did not return.

The complainant and the employer submitted arguments for their positions on whether the case should be accepted by the Tribunal as the allegations fell outside of the 6 months time period stated in the Code. The analysis of the Tribunal centered around s. 22(3) of the Code, which states: “If a complaint is filed after the expiration of the time limit referred to in subsection (1) or (2), a member or panel may accept all or part of the complaint if the member or panel determines that: (a) it is in the public interest to accept the complaint, and (b) no substantial prejudice will result to any person because of the delay.”

The finding was that the complaint was about 7 months late-filed. One of the complainant’s arguments in the late-filing was that she was pursuing other avenues, and when those avenues did not provide resolution, she filed with the Tribunal.

The finding was that the complainant should have filed with the Tribunal in time and the matter could have been deferred pending the outcome of the other process. Further, the Tribunal found that allowing the complaint forward would represent prejudice toward the employer. Accordingly, the complaint was not allowed to proceed and was deemed as filed out of time.

Case 2:

In this case, timeliness was also considered, but a very different outcome occurred. The complainant alleged sexual harassment during the term of her employment which ended on October 24, 2016. The complainant initially filed her complaint with the Human Rights Commission of another area, as the company was based there. Once she moved, she made inquiries at the Tribunal about the filing of her complaint and she filed a complaint in that area in April 2017.

The Tribunal’s analysis centred around the same section and considerations as with case 1. The case was filed May 8, 2017 and the last alleged discrimination event occurred on October 24, 2016.

In the analysis, the relatively brief length of delay weighed in favour of accepting the late-filed complaint. The complainant also noted medical concerns which delayed her finding, and which were a result of extreme harassment and assault in the workplace. The Tribunal found that the reasoning for this concern was not sufficient by itself to justify a delay in filing. The complaint was complicated as it involved two jurisdictions, which had vastly different filing deadlines. The Tribunal concluded that this attracted the public interest in allowing the complaint to proceed.

Next the Tribunal turned to the question of prejudice and concluded that no substantial prejudice would result to the employer due to the delay and the complaint was allowed to proceed.

I became interested in these cases when doing research in my area because of the difference in the outcome. I also noted reference to different late-filing times from Province to Province, something which we should all be aware of. I was also interested in the balancing of interests that the Tribunal does through the case law and the reasoning of an issue. Late-filing timelines are in place to ensure that those who have had their Human Rights denied may seek remedy in a timely manner. Also, employers can be assured that there remains an impetus for complainants to pursue remedy as quickly as possible, thereby helping every organization move forward with providing a workplace that is free of harassment and discrimination.