Northern Regional Health Authority v. Horrocks: Supreme Court Upholds Status Quo on Appellate Standard of Review for First Instance’s Court Standard of Review Analysis

  • February 02, 2022
  • Mina Karabit

In November 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Northern Regional Health Authority v. Horrocks. The decision upholds the status quo established in Agraira v. Canada (Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness) (an earlier Supreme Court decision) regarding the applicable appellate standard of review when the first instance court is tasked with determining the applicable standard of review.

The Facts and Previous Decisions

Ms. Linda Horrocks was a unionized healthcare aide at a care home run by the Northern Regional Health Authority in Manitoba. A collective agreement governed her employment relationship. The collective agreement prohibited discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disability, which is also a statutorily protected ground under the Manitoba Human Rights Code.

Ms. Horrocks struggled with an alcohol addiction, which the Health Authority conceded was a disability protected under the collective agreement and the Code.

In the past, the care home had met with Ms. Horrocks to discuss her chronic absenteeism, but Ms. Horrocks did not disclose her disability and the counselling she was receiving at the time.

In June 2011, she was found to be intoxicated at work, and the Health Authority suspended her without pay pending an investigation.

The Health Authority offered to allow Ms. Horrocks to return to work if she entered into a “last chance agreement” that included terms requiring her total abstinence from alcohol consumption. Ms. Horrocks refused to sign the agreement on the basis that it was discriminatory toward a person with a disability. The Union indicated that this would essentially be setting Ms. Horrocks up for failure.

A month later, her employment was terminated. The Health Authority’s reasoning included the incident of her intoxication at work and the lack of reasonable assurance that her addiction was being treated and controlled. The Health Authority pointed to the proposed “last chance agreement” as evidence of reasonable effort to accommodate her disability.

The Union grieved Ms. Horrocks’ termination and a settlement was reached. The Health Authority agreed to allow her to return to work on terms that were substantially the same as the last chance agreement. Shortly after returning to work, the Health Authority received two reports of Ms. Horrocks being intoxicated outside the workplace, meaning that she had allegedly breached the terms of the agreement.

As a result, she was terminated once more.