June, 2001

Update on the complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission against Wilfrid Laurier University for job discrimination against men

In mid-July, 1999, the Psychology Department at Wilfrid Laurier University circulated an advertisement for a faculty position. Specifically, the ad included the statement "The department is attempting to address a gender imbalance in its department, and therefore will hire a woman for this position..." A fair number of SAFS' members wrote letters to various senior administrators at Wilfrid Laurier University to protest the ad and to request that it be withdrawn. As well, the ad sparked media interest, and in the next several months the issue received attention all across Canada from newspapers, radio, and television.

In October, 1999, Clive Seligman formally complained to the Ontario Human Rights Commission about Wilfrid Laurier University's sex discrimination. In December, Wilfrid Laurier University responded to the complaint by challenging Seligman's legal standing to complain. In February, 2000, Seligman rebutted Wilfrid Laurier's claim. After several more rounds, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, in May 2001, turned down Seligman's final appeal of their earlier ruling not to deal with his complaint.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission elected to exercise their discretion under Section 34(1)(b) of the Human Rights Code not to hear the complaint. The reasons cited by the Commission for its decision were (a) that Seligman "did not apply for the position that was posted in the Psychology Department and therefore was not subjected to unequal treatment as alleged"; and (b) that the "complaint was filed solely to challenge the respondent's use of section 14 of the Code. Section 14 is the section that sets out the conditions for special programs, such as preferential hiring.

In other words, The Ontario Human Rights Commission relied on a problematic interpretation of legal standing to avoid making a decision on the legality of Wilfrid Laurie's special program to discriminate against male job applicants to advantage female job applicants. The Commission's ruling explicitly does not comment on the substance of Seligman's complaint, only on his right to make it. It should be noted that the Ontario Human Rights Code, section 14(2)(a), allows the Commission to hear complaints on its own initiative.

As it happened, the Psychology Department at Wilfrid Laurier University announced in May 2000 that it would not continue its discriminatory job hiring in the future. That decision was decided by a close vote in the department, the tie vote being cast by the department chair. Neither the psychology department nor the university has admitted that the exclusionary hiring policy was wrong.

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