Area of Law: Services for Lawyers and Paralegals
Answer # 952
Law Society's Discrimination and Harassment Counsel ProgramRegion: Ontario Answer # 952
The Law Society of Ontario’s Discrimination and Harassment Counsel Program (DHC) provides a free and confidential service to anyone who may have experienced discrimination or harassment by a lawyer or paralegal.
What is discrimination?
The DHC program is restricted to discrimination and harassment complaints based on the grounds listed in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Law Society’s Rules of Professional Conduct, and the Paralegal Rules of Conduct. Generally, discrimination includes any “unwelcome comments or actions that relate to a person’s personal characteristics, for example race, gender, sexual orientation and age.” Even if the intention was not to discriminate, the service focuses on the actual impact of the behaviour.
Harassment is also considered discrimination. This includes “unwelcome comments or behaviour when such conduct might reasonably be expected to cause insecurity, discomfort, offence or humiliation to another person.” Common examples are name calling, racial slurs and racist jokes, requests for sexual favours and sexist jokes or comments.
The effect, rather than the intent of the behaviour determines if it is discriminatory.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is a particular type of gender or sex based discrimination that occurs in employment settings. Sexual harassment generally refers to unwanted sexual comments or actions. If it takes place at work or outside work by your co-workers, the Human Rights Code makes this conduct illegal. Some types of behaviour could also be offences under the Criminal Code. Sexual harassment can take the form of spoken words, gestures, showing offensive or obscene pictures, physical contact, or intimidation.
When is discrimination legal?
Sometimes, however, discrimination is legal. For example, when hiring lawyers, employer law firms are entitled to discriminate against those who are not members of the provincial bar because it is an attribute that is a genuine requirement of the job.
Effects of sexual harassment and discrimination in a law office
Discrimination, regardless of the form it takes, always has a negative effect on the workplace. Law firms suffer when humiliation, anxiety, fear, anger and an overall tension permeate the office. Often, the practical results include an increase in employee absenteeism, lowering of work quality, communication breakdown, and damage to reputations. There are also serious consequences to those causing the harm. Lawyers or employees who discriminate against or harass others in the firm may face a human rights complaint, a complaint to the Law Society, and a civil action, which can result in serious damage awards. In some cases, depending on the circumstances, the offender may be charged criminally.
How the Law Society deals with harassment and discrimination
The DHC will listen to your concerns and discuss various options you can pursue. They may suggest that your complaint should be brought to the Law Society or even the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. If all parties agree, the DHC may also mediate a resolution. Note that the DHC works independently from the Law Society and all information is confidential.
In cases where an individual has filed a complaint against a lawyer or paralegal and is unsatisfied with the result, an application can be made to the Complaints Resolution Commissioner to review the case. The Commissioner works independently from the Law Society, similar to an ombudsperson, and will review the file to ensure that the complaint was handled appropriately. The Commissioner has the authority to provide alternative dispute resolution (e.g. arbitration, mediation) between the lawyer or paralegal and the person making the complaint.
You now haveoptions: