British Columbia

Man fired by text after disclosing hepatitis C diagnosis wins $65K in human rights case

A man who was fired from his new construction job by text after disclosing his hepatitis C diagnosis has beaten his former employer in a years-long human rights case in B.C.

Tribunal condemns employer's actions as 'callous' in workplace with culture of 'toxic masculinity'

A grey sign outside an office lobby listing business suites is pictured.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal office is pictured in Vancouver in March 2023. The tribunal described a man's firing as a 'callous act' of discrimination, after he was fired from his construction job after disclosing his hepatitis C diagnosis. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A man who was fired from his new construction job by text after disclosing his hepatitis C diagnosis has beaten his former employer in a years-long human rights case in B.C.

The man, identified only as D., filed a complaint against Path General Contractors and its owner after he was fired in fall 2018. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled in D.'s favour earlier this month, describing his firing as a "callous act" of discrimination that had a "devastating" effect on D.'s self-worth and family relationships.

"Mr. D. described the effects of the firing as an emotional implosion. He feared judgment, stigma and disdain and stopped going out in public or interacting with friends. He felt dehumanized and worthless. He spoke about his days being filled with despair and feeling unable to integrate into society," read the ruling posted online Monday.

"Instead of feeling that his disability was manageable, he felt it made him a lesser person."

D. was awarded more than $65,000 in damages in a ruling that examined ongoing stigma and pervasive misconceptions around the disease, which experts say continue to create harmful barriers for people well beyond the workplace.

"The stigma can really affect how you see yourself in the world and your place in the world and how you're treated or perhaps anticipate being treated by others," said Trevor Goodyear, a nurse and PhD candidate studying the illness at the University of British Columbia.

"I think [this case] is critically important and sends a message that hepatitis C stigma persists today."

Culture of 'toxic masculinity'

D. had been a general labourer at Path for two weeks when he hurt himself at work on Oct. 2, 2018. He went to get medical help and told the construction safety officer, or CSO, that he had hepatitis C.

"After treating Mr. D., the CSO ran across the job site to the site supervisor and yelled, 'Holy shit, did you know [Mr. D] has hepatitis!' He said he wanted Mr. D. gone. These comments were audible to other employees," the ruling said.

"The next morning, on Oct. 3, 2018, when Mr. D. arrived on the work site, he received a text message from Mr. Donovan informing him he was fired because he did not disclose his hepatitis C diagnosis."

The ruling also said a colleague testified to having heard other employees making "derogatory comments and expressing disgust about hepatitis C" after D. was fired.

"The evidence before me is that the work culture at Path was one with little respect or support and an environment of toxic masculinity," tribunal member Edward Takayanagi wrote in the ruling.

Hepatitis C is a chronic liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus, or HCV. For D., the tribunal said the condition amounts to a disability under the human rights code because it causes day-to-day lethargy, fluctuating blood sugar levels and a risk of seizures by interacting negatively with his other medical conditions.

Takayanagi found diagnosis was "likely the sole factor" behind the employer's decision. As such, he said the firing was discriminatory on the basis of disability.

Combating stigma

Speaking in an interview Tuesday, Goodyear said stigma around hepatitis C can affect a person's career, relationships, health-care, housing, education and other facets of their life.

"The person who put forth this case was quite brave in sharing their experience and outlining the harm that it caused on his life," the nurse said.

"Combating [stigma] is not just an individual-level responsibility. That's not something one person can do, but something that you know we as a society needs to do."

The ruling said Path did not file a response to D.'s complaint, didn't participate in the dispute resolution process and didn't attend the hearing last month.

Noting that losing one's job is the most serious consequence of workplace discrimination, D. was awarded more than $18,000 for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.

He was also awarded more than $48,600 for lost wages.