The Canada Border Services Agency is appealing a human rights tribunal ruling regarding an employee who complained her employer discriminated against her by refusing her request for fixed shifts so she could provide care for her child.

Fiona Johnstone worked as a border services officer at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Like her husband — who also worked for the border agency — Johnstone was expected to work an irregular, around-the-clock rotating shift schedule.

Johnstone argued this work schedule prevented her from finding a care provider for her two children.

'What's at stake here is whether we're going to have an inclusive workplace.' - Lawyer Kate Hughes

Her employer offered to provide Johnstone with a non-rotating shift schedule, but would first require her to move to part-time status, which would mean reduced benefits.

"What's at stake here is whether we're going to have an inclusive workplace that recognizes that we do have responsibilities outside of the workplace," said Kate Hughes, a lawyer for the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, which has intervened in the case.

"The modern Canadian reality is we have childcare responsibilities and we should have rules that are flexible enough to allow us to carry our parental obligations and fully participate in the workplace." 

Johnstone, supported by her union, filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2004. Johnstone argued that by denying her request, CBSA had discriminated against her based on her family status.

The tribunal ruled in her favour in 2010. That decision was upheld by a Federal Court ruling last year.

According to the CBSA’s lawyers, family status laws within the human rights charter are there to protect people from discrimination based on their status, not because of the obligations that come with being in a family.