A B.C. woman won a human rights complaint after a prospective landlord discriminated against her mental illness — that she might not even have.
Caroline Flak won $2,000 for “injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect” even though she failed to prove she has the condition she says caused the discrimination.
Ironically, the losing party is a mental-health advocate who’s even written a book about her own experience with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In March 2014, the apartment-hunting Flak met landlord Nattanya Anderson to view an available unit.
Flak expressed interest in the place, but said Andersen appeared put off when she admitted being unemployed and having received disability payments for depression.
The next day, Anderson e-mailed Flak and said the apartment needed some cleaning and upgrades, so wouldn’t be available “until the summer.”
In June, Flak stopped by the apartment and found it occupied by a tenant who’d been there since May.
She filed a human rights complaint against Andersen, claiming discrimination based on mental illness.
Each province and territory, B.C. included, has a human rights code that forbids discrimination on many grounds, such as race, ethnicity, gender and disability.
See: What is discrimination?
Here’s where it gets unusual.
Flak had little proof that she actually was depressed. She had a doctor’s letter from 1996 and while she had received some treatment, she’d stopped taking medication in 2003. Her current doctor hadn’t treated her for any mental disability and Flak herself admitted that she’s not sure if she’s still depressed, but “probably was” in March 2014.
Here’s the kicker: it’s basically irrelevant.
The tribunal’s decision notes that “the [Human Rights] Code’s protection extends to perceived as well as actual disabilities.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter whether Flak was actually depressed; it only matters that Andersen thought she was, and discriminated against her on that basis.
“I find, on the balance of probabilities, that Ms. Andersen perceived Ms. Flak to suffer from depression and that that perception was at least a factor, if not the sole cause, of her refusal to allow Ms. Flak to rent her suite on March 3rd, 2014,” wrote tribunal member Norman Trerise, in her decision released last week.
Human rights tribunals allow respondents an opportunity to justify their conduct, but Andersen didn’t show for the hearing.
In the end, the penalties are limited. Flak didn’t suffer any financial harm and the tribunal can’t order Andersen to give her the apartment, because it would involve kicking out the innocent tenant.
Human rights tribunals don’t hand out big awards unless it’s compensating for something like lost wages, so Flak was only entitled to some compensation for injuries to her dignity and self-respect.
Andersen was slapped with a $2,000 payment and a stern warning not to violate the human rights code again.