Saturday, December 19, 2015

Did the Federal Court of Appeal Get it Wrong in Ruling Breastfeeding A "Personal Choice" and Not a Legal Obligation Towards the Child ?

     I most respectfully submit they did.

     A unanimous panel of the Federal Court of Appeal consisting of two female judges dismissed an application for judicial review by a mother who sought to assert her right to accommodation under the Canadian Human Rights Act in order to breastfeed her child during working hours.  The court applied the test enunciated by the Federal Court of Appeal in determining a prima facie case of discrimination on the basis of family status in Canada (Attorney General)  v. Johnsonte 2014 FCA 110 and determined that the mother failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination in her case on the basis of the second requirement in that test, namely, "that the childcare obligation at issue engages the individual's legal responsibility for that child, as opposed to a personal choice."

[35]   Having carefully examined the record, I conclude that the applicant's evidence does not meet the second factor of Johnstone.  In her particular circumstances, breastfeeding during working hours is not a legal obligation towards the child under her care.  It is a personal choice.

[38]    Before concluding, I must make one final comment.  I do not wish these reasons to be understood as trivializing breastfeeding.  The medical profession and numerous health organizations encourage mothers to breastfeed babies, praising, inter alia, the benefits of human milk on the immune system of young children.  The applicant chose to breastfeed her children and respect must be had for her decision.  This case is not about that choice but rather about the difficulties of balancing motherhood and career.  It is about balancing the rights of mothers and that of employers having regard to the basic principle that one must be at work to get paid. The test for establishing a prima facie discrimination is well entrenched in Canadian jurisprudence.  In the case of breastfeeding, the onus is on working-outside-the-home mothers to make a prima facie case of discrimination.  Unfortunately, in this case, the applicant failed.

[34]     Here, such information about the young infant is absent from the record but for a medical note from Doctor Joesphine Smith, stating that she supports the applicant's choice to continue breastfeeding her child for a second year. (applicant's Record, Tab 10 at page 167, note of December 18, 2012)  A second note states that due to the applicant's inability to pump her milk, breastfeeding should occur twice over a 8-hour period to ensure that the milk supply is maintained. (ididem, Tab 18 at page 191, note of May 28, 2013).  The applicant also wrote in one of her emails that she wanted to breastfeed the child past her one-year maternity leave because her second child had had health issues she felt that her young son's immune system would benefit from breastfeeding (ididem, Tab 11 at page 168, e mail of January 25, 2013)


     If we are ever going to move away from mere lip-service to the concept and actualization of equality for women in the workplace we must first and foremost recognize and accept that social norms and stereotypes are so engrained and pervasive in our consciousness that mere representation of women on the Bench will not on its own bring about substantive equality to women in the workplace.  Political correctness can score one political points but it can never bring about equality
in the absence of a commitment to alter societal thinking on these issues.  

     This case brings back vivid memories of my time as a student-at-law.  I was handed a file to prepare for an arbitration hearing in which the employer decided to deny a woman of childbearing age who had suffered two previous miscarriages and was advised by her doctor to take bed rest until the fetus was properly attached and the risk of miscarriage lessened only to be denied sick pay. My job was to research the arbitral jurisprudence for the employer. I researched the law and the law did not support the employer. When asked by a manager what my view was I candidly told him to pay the lady you can not win this.  Following that opinion everyone in the office referred to me as 
"the socialist lawyer."  The employer's answer to my opinion was to have a female lawyer argue the case.  The case was heard and decided and the advice I gave them turned out to be sound - pregnancy is not an illness - however complications arising from or related to pregnancy are.  

     Here is the decision.  Have a read and tell me what you think.  Enjoy !        




Heard at Ottawa, Ontario,  on October 6, 2015.

Judgment   delivered   at Ottawa, Ontario,  on November 10, 2015.







I.                                           Overview

[1]        This  is an application  for judicial  review  from a decision  of the Public  Service Labour Relations and Employment Board (Board),  dismissing  a grievance  of Laura  Marie  Flatt (applicant)   against   her employer,   the Treasury  Board of Canada (employer).

[2]        The  Board’s decision,  penned  by Board member  Augustus  Richardson,  is dated November  13, 2014 and bears the  citation  2014 PSLREB 02.

Text Box: 2015 FCA 250 (CanLII)[3]        Following  her one-year maternity  leave,  the  applicant  requested  permission  to telework in order to continue breastfeeding her third child. Despite various  exchanges,  the  parties  failed to establish  a suitable   work schedule  that  would  meet  both their  needs. As a result,  the applicant filed a grievance claiming  that  the failure  to accommodate  was discriminatory  on the basis  of sex and family status, contrary to the  Canadian Human Rights Act, R.S.C. 1985, c.H-6 and the collective  agreement  (see the applicant’s   individual  grievance   presentation,   applicant’s   Record, Tab B-5 page 145). The  grievance   was refused  at every  level  up to this  Court.

[4]        Having  carefully  reviewed  the Board’s decision  and considered  the parties’  written  and oral submissions, I propose to dismiss this application for judicial  review.  I have  not been persuaded  that  the Board  committed   legal  errors or any other  errors warranting  our intervention.

II.                                        The  relevant  facts

[5]        The  Board aptly  summarized  the  facts of this  case. They  are uncontested and well documented. For our purposes, it suffices to know that the applicant  is a spectrum  management officer. She works full-time within the Spectrum Management Operations  Branch  of Industry Canada, which supervises and manages the radio  frequency  spectrum  in  Canada. In April  2007,  she became pregnant and went  on maternity  leave  in  September  2007. She returned  from maternity  leave  in  September 2008. In January  2009, she  requested  to telework  out of her  home

on Thursdays. Her request was accepted and she continued with this arrangement until September 2009.

Text Box: 2015 FCA 250 (CanLII)[6]        In September  2009, the applicant  went on maternity  leave again.  She returned  to  work in September 2010. Although the arrangement differed, she once again received her employer’s permission  to telework  out of her home,  at least  from  April  2011 to March 2012.

[7]        The applicant  commenced  her one-year maternity  leave for her third  child  in March    2012.

She breastfed  her child.  As the year  wore on, the  applicant  decided  that  she would  like  to  continue breastfeeding her child for another year, that is until March 2014. To that  end, she approached her employer, in  November  2012, and sought  permission  to telework  full-time from her home between 6:00  and 14:00. The  employer  denied  this  request  because,  inter alia, it was not “operationally feasible”  (email  of January  25, 2013, applicant’s  Record, Tab C-4 at page  207).

[8]        The applicant  ended up asking  for an extended  leave  without  pay for the  period running between March 4, 2013 and June 28, 2013 with a return to work on July 1st (email of January 27, 2013, ibidem at page 212). Her request was  accepted.

[9]  Nonetheless,  the  applicant  continued  to seek a teleworking  arrangement.   In early  March 2013, several  emails were exchanged   between the  parties.  The  applicant  explored  the possibility of finding a daycare close to her workplace. This would permit her  to continue  breastfeeding  her  child   while   working  physically  in  the  office.  She proposed a schedule  whereby  she would

Text Box: 2015 FCA 250 (CanLII)telework two days per week. On the remaining three days, when she would be in the office, she  would  take two 45 minutes breaks to attend  the daycare  center  and breastfeed  her child.  It must be understood that with  this  proposal,  the  applicant  wanted  the  breastfeeding  time  to be included in her  paid hours  and did  not wish  to forfeit  her lunch  breaks. She only  agreed  to count  her two 15 minutes   paid coffee  breaks towards  the breastfeeding  time.

[10]      The  employer  generally  agreed  with  this  proposal but flagged  two issues:  (1) the hours of work were to total 37.5 hours per week, excluding lunch breaks and the time associated to breastfeeding; and (2) the arrangement would be for one year (email of March 4, 2013, ibidem at  page 220).

[11]      The  applicant  did not seek to address her employer’s  concerns  but rather   abandoned this possible arrangement proposing  a new one where  she would  telework  from  her home  two full  days per week and work in  the  office  the other  three  days,  from  10:00 to 14:30, teleworking  again  from  her home  on those  days from  6:00  to 8:30.

[12]      Having  considered  this  new request in  light  of the relevant  Duty  to Accommodate  Policy, the  employer  offered  the  applicant  three options:
a)  That the [applicant] work from home one day a week, and in the Burlington office four days a week, working a minimum of 7.5 hrs a day when in the Burlington  office;

b)  That  the  [applicant]   work part-time; or

c)   That the [applicant] continue on leave-without-pay until she feels that her nursing  is  complete.

(Board’s  reasons  at paragraph  53, reference  to Exhibits  omitted).

Text Box: 2015 FCA 250 (CanLII)[13]      The  parties  did not reach an agreement  and the  applicant  reverted  to her original  request teleworking  from  her home  on a full-time  basis  (email  of April  16, 2013, applicant’s  Record at page 235). This  request  forms  the basis  of her grievance  dated March 22, 2013, in  which  she  alleges discrimination on the grounds of sex and family status contrary to the Canadian Human  Rights Act and seeks the  following  corrective  measures:

That Management comply with my rights under the Canadian Human Rights Act regarding “Sex and Family Status” and that Management respects its obligation as prescribed in  the  Canadian  Human  Rights Commission,  Duty  to Accommodate Policy.

That  I be treated in  accordance  with  the  IBEW,  Local 2228 collective agreement.

That I be allowed to work from home full time, Monday to Friday  between the hours of 7:00 am to 3:00pm to accommodate breastfeeding my son until March 2014.

That based on the effective date of March 4, 2013 (my original return to work date), I be compensated for any lost wages and benefits that  resulted  due to the denial of my  request  and having  to accept leave  without  pay during  the time  that an acceptable  accommodation  solution  could  have  been arranged.

That I be made whole again for any and all losses. (ibidem at page 146)

[14]      In the  end, the  facts reveal that the applicant  weaned  her son sooner that she   had planned to and  returned  to work on October 1, 2013.

III.                                      The  Board’s decision

[15]      Having  considered  the grievance  and the current  state of the jurisprudence,   the Board opined  that four  issues  needed to be addressed:

a)     Is discrimination on the basis of breastfeeding  discrimination  on the basis of sex or family  status  or both?

b)     What is necessary to establish a prima facie case of discrimination on the basis  of breastfeeding,  and did the  grievor  meet  it  in  this case?

c)     Text Box: 2015 FCA 250 (CanLII)If the grievor did establish a prima facie case of discrimination, did the employer  accommodate  her  to the  point  of undue hardship?

d)     If it  did not, then  what  is  the remedy?

[16]      In view  of my proposed conclusion,  the first  two questions  will  be the focus   of my analysis.   This  said,  I return  to the Board’s decision.

[17]      I start by saying  a few words about the scope of the grievance.  The   applicant contends that the Board’s first error is that it determined that the scope of the grievance prevented it from considering events that occurred after the filing of the grievance, i.e. March 22, 2013, mostly the on-going discussions between the parties to find a suitable arrangement allowing the applicant to continue   breastfeeding  her  child   for another year.

[18]      Indeed,  it is the applicant’s  view  that the Board confounded  the substance   of the grievance with the corrective measures she sought. More specifically, the applicant writes at paragraphs  60-63 of her Memorandum  of Fact and Law:

60.    Moreover, contrary to the Panel’s assertion that  the Applicant’s original request to telework five days per week in November of 2012 somehow limited the scope of the grievance as filed in March of 2013, the Applicant submits that  the content  of discussions   between  the  parties  before  the  filing   of any  grievance cannot  serve to limit   the  scope of any  subsequently  filed   grievance.   A party filing a grievance   is  simply  not constrained   in  this way.

61.    Further, it is evident from the  discussions  before and, indeed,  throughout  the  grievance   procedure,  that  the Applicant   communicated  to the  employer that

while she required  a change  in  the  manner  in  which  she  worked to accommodate her son’s breastfeeding schedule,  she  was more  than willing  to propose and  consider different ways in which satisfactory accommodation could be made. The gravamen of the grievance was the employer’s discrimination and failure to accommodate.

62.    Text Box: 2015 FCA 250 (CanLII)The statutory  duty to accommodate  is an ongoing  duty.  It does not  disappear when a grievance  is  filed.  Arbitrators  have  held  that  an employer’s potential  accommodation  liabilities under  human   rights   legislation  cannot  be said to have  finally  crystallized when  a grievance  is  filed.  Indeed,  where  one of the issues  in  a grievance   is  management’s   accommodation  as required  by human  rights  legislation, this  gives  rise  to an exception  to the  privilege  normally  attached to grievance procedure discussions. As such, it is proper to consider evidence of discussions   that  may  have  arisen  post-grievance   or during  the  grievance procedure.

63.    The Applicant submits that no meaningful consideration of the employer’s accommodation efforts, or lack thereof, could have been made  without  regard  to events  that  occurred  following  March 22, 2013. The  Applicant  continued  to propose a number of alternative solutions, all  of which  were rejected  by the employer. Given the employer’s ongoing duty to accommodate, the events which occurred  after  March 28, 2013, ought  to have  been considered  by the Panel.

[19]      In my  view,  this  ground  of complaint  cannot succeed  and I will  dispose of it immediately. To start with,   the  Board heard  all  of the  evidence,  including  the  evidence  dealing   with  the parties’ negotiations before and after  the filing  of the  grievance.  It also noted  the  employer’s objection to the introduction of this evidence  because  it  constituted  privileged  information.  The Board allowed the evidence in on a provisional basis  because  it might  be relevant”  (Board’s  reasons at paragraph  63). In the  end, however,  “…having  considered  all  the  issues  and the evidence [the Board was] satisfied that the post-grievance evidence  was not relevant”  (Board’s reasons at paragraph 64), mostly  because  the  applicant’s  original  request in November  2012 was to telework from  her home  5 days per week. It is  the request  that  ultimately  grounded  the  grievance   that  was filed   in  March 2013. The  Board wrote at paragraph  100 of its reasons:

Text Box: 2015 FCA 250 (CanLII)It is true that  between  those dates, the  grievor  did  suggest  that  she might  be prepared to telework fewer days, provided certain other changes were made to her work schedule.  However  it remains   the  case that  in  the end, she  backed away  from those proposals and returned to her  original  request  in  its  original  form.  Had she grieved   simply   that  she had not  been accommodated,  she would  have  left  open the possibility of some form of accommodation other than five days of teleworking. But that  is not  what  she did.  She grieved  that  the accommodation  on her breastfeeding  required  a specific,   particular  and precise  form  of work.

(Board’s  reasons  at paragraph 100).

[20]      Assessing  the  scope of the  grievance  and assessing  the evidence  and affording  it the weight that it deserves is within the province of the  Board. Absent  an unreasonable determination,   this  Court  will  not intervene.

[21]      Having  carefully  examined  the  material  on record, I have  not been persuaded that the Board erred when it concluded that  the  grievance  with  which  it  was concerned  was  “…the  one that was filed, which stated that the employer failed to accommodate the [applicant’s] desire to breastfeed her child  by permitting  her to telework  five  days per week(ibidem).  The  record amply supports the Board’s view that the crux of the grievance is that the employer would not accommodate  the applicant  so that she  could  work her 37.5 hours  per week from  her   home.

[22]      Coming  back to the  Board’s analysis  of the first  issue,  I note its  conclusion  “…that discrimination on the basis  of breastfeeding,  if it  is  discrimination,  is  discrimination  on the basis  of family  status  rather  than sex or gender”  (ibidem at paragraph  157).

[23]      Although  the  Board acknowledges  that to lactate  is a physical  condition  an immutable characteristic,  it  is  of the  view  that breastfeeding  is  different.   It  is a subset of and an  expression

of a larger complex of factors stemming from the relationship between a parent and an infant (ibidem at paragraph 150).

Text Box: 2015 FCA 250 (CanLII)[24]      As for the second issue,  the Board asked itself  what was necessary  to establish   a prima facie case of discrimination on the basis of family status.  It chose to follow  the  test enunciated  by  this  Court at paragraph  93 of Canada (Attorney General) v. Johnstone, 2014 FCA 110, [2015] 2
F.C.R. 595 [Jonhstone]. Paragraph  93 reads as follows:

[93] I conclude from this analysis  that  in  order to make  out a prima facie case where  workplace  discrimination  on the  prohibited   ground  of family  status resulting from childcare obligations is alleged,  the individual  advancing  the  claim must show (i) that a child is under his  or her  care and  supervision;  (ii)  that  the childcare obligation at issue engages the individual’s legal  responsibility  for  that child, as opposed to a personal choice; (iii) that  he or she  has made  reasonable efforts  to meet  those  childcare   obligations   through   reasonable  alternative solutions,  and that  no such alternative solution  is  reasonably  accessible,  and (iv) that  the  impugned   workplace  rule  interferes   in  a manner  that  is  more  than trivial or insubstantial  with  the fulfillment  of the  childcare   obligation.

[25]      Having  so concluded,  the Board found  that the applicant’s  evidence  fell  short  on the second and third factors of the Johnstone test (Board’s reasons at paragraphs  182-183). As a result, the Board could have  stopped its  analysis.  But  in  case it  erred in  deciding  that  the applicant had not established a prima facie case of discrimination,  it  went  on asking  itself  whether the employer accommodated the applicant to the point of undue hardship. In short,  its answer was yes. As stated earlier, in view of my conclusion  it  will  not be necessary  to address  this  particular  issue.

IV.                                   Analysis

Text Box: 2015 FCA 250 (CanLII)[26]      Whether  sex or family  status are alleged  as grounds  of discrimination,  complainants  are required  to present  first  a prima facie case disclosing  that  they have  a characteristic   protected from  discrimination,  that  they encountered  an adverse  impact  with  respect to employment   and that the protected characteristic was a factor in  the  adverse  impact.  If this  demonstration  is successful, the employer must show that the practice  or policy  is  a bona fide occupational requirement and that those affected cannot be accommodated without undue hardship  in order to  rebut  the allegation  (Johnstone at paragraph 76).

[27]      At the hearing  of this  application,  both parties agreed  as to how to apply this   test. The issue of prima facie discrimination should be decided in light of the factors enunciated in Johnstone, no matter the basis on which the alleged discrimination is  examined,  i.e., sex or  family  status.  I agree.

[28]      This  said, these factors  should  not be applied  blindly  without  regard to  the particular circumstances of the applicant whose situation differs greatly from that of Ms. Johnstone. The application of the  facts  to this  test is  dispositive  of the  grievance  keeping  in mind  that  the  test that concerns prima facie discrimination is necessarily flexible and contextual  because  it  is applied in cases with many different factual  situations  involving  various  grounds  of discrimination(Johnstone at paragraph 83). The Johnstone factors should also be applied contextually.

Text Box: 2015 FCA 250 (CanLII)[29]      Indeed,  Ms. Johnstone  had complained  that her employer  had discriminated   against her on the ground  of family  status  by refusing  to accommodate  her childcare  needs  through scheduling  arrangements.  Ms. Johnstone’s work schedule,  as well  as that  of her  husband,  was built around a rotating shift plan with no predictable patterns such that neither could provide the necessary childcare on a reliable basis. In other words, Ms. Johnstone was unable  to meet  her parental legal obligation  to care for and protect  her child.  Under  these  circumstances,  she easily met the two first  factors  of the  Johnstone test: (a) the  child  was under  her  care and supervision; and (b) she had the  legal  obligation  to care for  her child.  This   was not  a personal  choice.

[30]      She also  met the last  two factors of the Johnstone test: (c) she had   made reasonable efforts to meet her legal obligation through reasonable alternative solutions, and  (d) her workplace  schedule  interfered   substantially  with  that obligation.

[31]      In the case at bar, there can be no doubt that the applicant’s  young  son is under    her care and supervision. But I have not been persuaded that  the  applicant  has  met  her burden  on the second and  third  factors.  The  applicant   has been arguing  that  the  equivalent  for her  of Ms.
Johnstone legal obligation to care for her child is her “legal obligation to nourish her son by breastfeeding  him”   (applicant’s  Memorandum  of Fact and  Law at paragraph  96)

[32]      Here, this  comparison  is inapt.  I accept that there could  be cases where  breastfeeding  is seen as part of a mother’s legal obligation to care, and more  precisely,  to feed  her child.  As result, I also accept the applicant’s position that  breastfeeding  can fall  under  both prohibited grounds  of discrimination.  Here,  and without  adopting  all  of its  reasoning,   I can find   no error in  the Board’s ultimate  conclusion  that  Ms. Flatt  was breastfeeding  her child  out  of a personal choice and that discrimination on that basis, if it  was discrimination,  was discrimination  on the basis of family status. I do not share the  applicant’s  view  that  the  Board misapprehended Johnstone and misapplied the  Johnstone factors.  I need not further  discuss  the  Board’s analysis of case law dealing with the question of whether work requirements that impact an employee’s breastfeeding  schedule  constitute   discrimination  on the  basis  of sex or family   status.

[33]      It seems to me that to make a case of discrimination  on the basis of sex   or family  status related  to breastfeeding,   an applicant  would  have  to provide  proper evidence,  foreseeably divulging  confidential  information.  For example,  such information  may  address the  particular  needs of a child  or particular  medical  condition  requiring  breastfeeding;  the  needs of an applicant  to continue breastfeeding without expressing  her  milk;  and  the reasons  why  the child  may  not continue to receive the benefits of human milk while  being  bottle-fed.  This  list  of examples,  of course, is not exhaustive.  The  purpose  of such  evidence  would  be to establish  that  returning  to work at the  workplace  is incompatible  with  breastfeeding.

[34]      Here, such information  about the young  infant  is absent from the  record but for   a medical note from Doctor Josephine Smith, stating that she supports the applicant’s choice to continue breastfeeding her child for a second  year (applicant’s  Record, Tab 10 at page 167, note of  December 18, 2012). A second note states that due to the applicant’s inability to pump her milk, breastfeeding  should  occur twice  over  a 8-hour period  to ensure  that  the milk   supply  is  maintained (ibidem, Tab 18 at page  191, note of May 28, 2013). The  applicant  also  wrote in  one of her  emails   that  she wanted  to breastfeed  the  child   past her one-year maternity  leave because

her second child had had health issues and she felt that her young son’s  immune  system would  benefit  from  breastfeeding  (ibidem, Tab 11 at page 168, email  of January  25,  2013)

Text Box: 2015 FCA 250 (CanLII)[35]      Having  carefully  examined  the  record, I conclude  that the applicant’s  evidence  does not meet the  second factor  of Johnstone. In her particular  circumstances, breastfeeding  during working  hours  is  not a legal  obligation  towards  the child   under  her care. It is a personal   choice.

[36]      Moreover,  the applicant  has made no reasonable  effort  to find  a viable  solution.  As mentioned earlier, she never addressed the employer’s reasonable concerns  with  her proposal to leave the office twice a day for 45 minutes to breastfeed her child during paid hours  and simply reverted  to her original  position.   She does not  meet  the third  factor  of Johnstone.

[37]      I therefore  conclude,  as did  the Board, that the  applicant  has not made  her case of prima facie discrimination and that the Board’s application of the facts to the Johnstone factors was reasonable. I need not discuss the second stage of the test for discrimination dealing with the employer’s  answer.

[38]      Before  concluding,  I must  make one final  comment.  I do not wish  these reasons  to be understood  as trivializing  breastfeeding.  The  medical  profession  and numerous  health organizations encourage mothers to breastfeed babies,  praising,  inter alia, the  benefits  of human milk   on the  immune   system  of young  children.   The  applicant  chose  to breastfeed  her children and respect must be had for her decision. This case is not about that choice but rather about the difficulties   of balancing  motherhood  and career. It is  about balancing  the rights  of mothers and that of employers  having  regard to the basic  principle  that  one must  be at work to get paid.  The  test for establishing prima facie discrimination is well  entrenched  in Canadian  jurisprudence.  In  the case of breastfeeding, the onus  is  on working-outside-the-home  mothers  to make  a prima facie case of discrimination.  Unfortunately  in  this  case, the  applicant  failed.

V.                                      Proposed disposition

[39]      Consequently,  I propose that this  application  for judicial  review  be dismissed   with costs in the  amount  of $4600 inclusive   of disbursements  and  taxes.

 Johanne Trudell J.A.

“I agree.
A.F. Scott J.A.”

“I agree.
Mary J.L. Gleason  J.A.”



OCTOBER 6, 2015
NOVEMBER  10, 2015


Jennifer   M. Duff
James  L. Shields
Richard  E. Fader


Ottawa, Ontario
William  F. Pentney
Deputy Attorney General of Canada Ottawa, Ontario

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