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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ontario Human Rights Tribunal throws out complaint against farmer

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has dismissed an application by Cyndy Hunter in which she alleged that that the respondent, Hubertus Vermeer, who is of Dutch origin but who is a permanent resident of Canada, treated her differently because she is Canadian.  Hunter and her husband worked for Vermeer in one of his dairy operations.  Hunter claimed that she suffered damages as a result of Vermeer's discriminatory conduct.

Cyndy and Dan Hunter entered into a contractual relationship with Vermeer Farms under which they managed the dairy herd under Vermeer's supervision and lived in a house on the farm.  From time to time, Vermeer would provide direction, often in writing, to the Hunters regarding the operation of the farm. For example, in September 2003, he prepared a report on the operation of the farm which included financial results, compliments on the management of the farm by the Hunters, and a list of "The things that didn't work out".  In one section of the report headed "What to do about to keep [sic] the farm nice and clean", Vermeer made detailed recommendations about operational matters such as washing equipment, putting things where they belong, spraying the weeds on the gravel, etc.  Further reports followed.

The allegations of discrimination arose from statements allegedly made by Vermeer about differences between Dutch and Canadian styles of management.  Hunter alleged that on a relatively infrequent basis (estimated to be three or four times per year), Vermeer would make comments to her and and/or Mr. Hunter which were based on their citizenship. The typical comment would compare how things were done in Holland or how Dutch farmers operated on one hand, to how things were being done in Canada or how Canadian farmers operated, on the other. For example, Hunter alleged that the respondent would describe Canadians as "slackers" and "lazy" and would often criticize the way things were done on Canadian farms compared to how they were done on Dutch farms.

In the end, the Tribunal threw out the complaint because Hunter failed to make her application in time under the applicable rules and her delay in doing so was not "in good faith".  Hunter relied heavily in her case on a letter sent by Vermeer to her in which he referred to the differences between Dutch and Canadian management styles.  However, instead of taking immediate action on this "discriminatory" letter, Hunter said she put it "in her back pocket" for use in a future legal proceeding.  Apparently, she left it in her back pocket too long.

Because the case was decided on the delay issue, we have no reasons from the Tribunal as to whether or not assertions that Dutch management style differs from (or is better than) Canadian management style constitute discriminatory conduct.

Read the decision at: Hunter v. Vermeer.  Jennifer Quick of my firm was counsel for Vermeer.  Cyndy Hunter was self-represented.