IN an unusual but welcome move, the Supreme Court of Canada sided with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation on Wednesday in its efforts to defend pregnancy leave rights immediately after oral arguments were made.
The Supreme Court of Canada issued its unanimous decision from the bench, agreeing with the union that denying parental benefits to birth mothers, because they received pregnancy benefits, was discriminatory.
“This victory at the Supreme Court of Canada is not just for teachers,” said BCTF President Jim Iker. “This is a victory for all working women who are pregnant or may become pregnant in the future. The Supreme Court of Canada said employers cannot discriminate against pregnant women and that benefit plans for new parents must be consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. On behalf of all BC teachers I want to thank our in-house BCTF lawyers, Robyn Trask and Diane MacDonald, for their excellent work on behalf of our members.”
The ruling stems from a grievance first filed by BCTF in 2011 after teachers employed by the Surrey School District were denied parental leave benefits following the births of their children. The union took the position that birth mothers are entitled to pregnancy leave and that all parents (including birth mothers) are also entitled to parental leave. The union argued it was discriminatory to deny birth mothers parental leave because the two forms of leave serve different purposes.
At arbitration, the BCTF was successful in its arguments and the arbitrator found that the denial of parental benefits to birth mothers violated the Charter and the Human Rights Code. However, a subsequent ruling at the BC Court of Appeal overturned that arbitrator’s decision.
Wednesday’s ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada restores the arbitrator’s decision and sends the matter back to the parties to renegotiate in a non-discriminatory manner. The arbitrator retains jurisdiction if the parties are unable to reach an agreement.
“Today’s Supreme Court of Canada win is another proud day for BC teachers who have a long record of defending our Charter rights against unfair labour practices,” said Iker. “The BCTF and the Surrey Teachers’ Association are very happy about this decision, which recognizes the health effects of pregnancy and affirms equality rights for women. We are also pleased this prompt decision allows the parties to return to addressing the remaining issue of remedying the discrimination.”