Cowichan District Hospital. (Citizen file)

Supreme Court orders review for Island hospital pharmacist case

Issue over Human Rights Tribunal focused on how quickly complaints were filed

A B.C. Supreme Court justice is allowing a review of a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision involving an employee who made complaints against two Island Health hospitals, including Cowichan District Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox.

The complainant, Homa Safaei, made two separate complaints, one against Island Health – then the Vancouver Island Health Authority – in November 2016 and a second against the health authority as well as the Hospital Employees Union in September 2017.

The key matter in both cases that led the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to dismiss Safaei’s complaints was the length of time between when the alleged incidents occurred and her filing the complaints – specifically outside the six-month window in which complainants are supposed to launch a complaint.

“The central questions in this case concern the tribunal’s exercise of its discretion to accept a late-filed complaint and the court’s exercise of its discretion to accept a late-filed judicial review application,” Justice Nitya Iyer wrote in her Sept. 23 decision.

Iyer granted the petition for a review of the tribunal’s decision for the first complaint but dismissed the request for the second decision. Specifically, she granted the review in order for the tribunal to consider a new allegation from May 26, 2016, which fell within the six-month window of the first complaint.

There is no reference to the May 26 incident in the first HRT decision, only that the complainant went on stress leave the following day before being dismissed in June.

“The first decision does not refer at all to the May 26 allegation,” Iyer wrote. “The omission is significant.”

In her decision, Justice Iyer noted the complaint which involved a co-worker belittling Safaei’s credentials from her home country. She is from Iran and is a Muslim. In this case, the co-worker allegedly accused her of coming here and taking other people’s jobs. Over the two complaints, Safaei makes a number of allegations including being made to feel unwelcome on Vancouver Island and that she would lose her job if she filed a human rights complaint.

As far as the other reasons for her delay in filing with the tribunal, Safaei noted a number of reasons for a delay in filing, including a wish to rectify the matter through other avenues, such as a union grievance or WorkSafeBC. She also alluded to mental health issues related to the stress of working in the environment as a factor.

The Supreme Court decision notes Safaei had worked as a pharmacy assistant for the health authority at the two hospitals. She worked in the Comox Valley between November 2015 and the end of January 2016, then worked at Cowichan District Hospital from Feb. 26 to June 6, 2016, and she was let go within the probationary periods at each. In the first HRT decision, she described a history of mistreatment at work. The specific incidents cited in the two HRT decisions occurred during the spring of 2016, when she was working at the Cowichan facility.

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