Brossard (Ville) v. Québec (Comm. des droits de la personne) (1988), 10 C.H.R.R. D/5515 (S.C.C.) [Eng./Fr. 45 pp.]: Anti-Nepotism Policy is Discriminatory: Town discriminated when it refused to hire applicant because her mother was already employed by the municipality

Keywords: FAMILY STATUS - marital status definition not included in human rights legislation - employer policy prohibiting nepotism - BONA FIDE OCCUPATIONAL QUALIFICATION - absence of nepotism for civic employee - CIVIL STATUS - definition of civil status - employment denied to child - EXEMPTIONS - anti-nepotism

INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES - definition of "aptitudes or qualifications" ("aptitudes ou qualités"), "civil status" ("état civil"), "institution", "marital status" and "political" - grammatical rule of noscitur a sociis

English Summary: In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Canada rules that the Town of Brossard discriminated against Line Laurin because of her civil status when it refused to hire her as a lifeguard because her mother was already employed by the municipality. The Court overturns the Court of Appeal ruling that the Town's anti-nepotism policy did not offend the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Supreme Court addresses three questions in its decision: (1) does the Town's hiring policy constitute discrimination because of civil status? (2) is the refusal to hire members of the families of town councillors and existing staff based on a bona fide qualification for employment? and (3) is the anti-nepotism policy exempted from the application of the Charter because the Town of Brossard is a non-profit institution of a political nature as specified in s. 20?

The Town of Brossard's policy was to refuse to hire members of the immediate family of town councillors and existing staff in order to avoid nepotism or favouritism or any appearance thereof in the hiring practices of the municipality. Line Laurin applied for the position of lifeguard in the summer of 1978 and was refused consideration because her mother was employed as a secretary at the muncipal police station.

The Court finds that Line Laurin was discriminated against because of her civil status, that is because of the mother-daughter relationship. While in this circumstance the discrimination occurred not just because Line Laurin is her mother's daughter, but also because her mother was already employed by the municipality, the Court finds that these two factors operated together to form a single, indivisible cause.

Section 20 of the Charter provides two exemptions from the non-discrimination rule. Discrimination is deemed not to violate the Charter if it is based on the aptitudes or qualifications required for employment. It is also allowed where it is justified by the charitable, philanthropic, religious, political or educational nature of a non-profit institution, or of an institution devoted exclusively to the well-being of an ethnic group.

The Court finds that the Town's anti-nepotism policy cannot be justified as a bona fide qualification for employment. Ensuring that there were no real or potential conflicts of interest in the employment of municipal staff was a legitimate concern and the absence of conflicts of interest was a qualification rationally connected to employment with the Town. However, the Court found that the Town's no-relative rule was overbroad since it operated as a blanket policy and did not allow exceptions, nor was it tailored to apply to those positions in which real or potential conflicts of interest could arise. Line Laurin's mother was not in a position to influence the hiring of her daughter, and there was no reason to expect that she could influence it.

The exemption provided in the Charter for non-profit institutions does not apply to the municipality because it is not an institution of the kind which this provision is intended to protect. The purpose of this exemption is to allow individuals to associate in groups in order to express particular views and engage in activities pertinent for their group. It is intended to allow political parties to hire persons with the same political beliefs to carry out party functions and to allow organizations working for the welfare of an ethnic or racial group to hire members of that group. The municipality is not an institution designed to promote the interests of a group identified by their race or sex or any other protected characteristic. Therefore, the Court finds, it does not qualify for exemption from the Charter's non-discrimination requirements.

As a result, the Court finds that Line Laurin was discriminated against because of her civil status. The appeal is allowed.

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