B.C. Human Rights Tribunal dismisses complaint from woman denied service for not wearing a mask

B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a complaint from a woman who argued that a jewelry store discriminated against her by refusing to serve her when she declined to put on a face mask.

The complainant, Shera Rael, was refused service at Cartwright Jewelers in New Westminster on July 31, 2020, according to the decision issued Thursday by tribunal member Paul Singh.

In the decision, Singh writes that he had limited information on the complaint because Rael did not respond to the store’s application to dismiss it and “provided only minimal information in her complaint form.” 

On the form, Rael claimed she has a disability, which she described as “breathing issues and cannot wear a mask,” according to Singh’s decision.

Asked on the form how the alleged discrimination related to her disability, Rael wrote: “My human rights were denied. Mask wearing is not a law.”

In response to the complaint, the jewelry store’s owner Susan Cartwright-Coates acknowledged denying service to Rael, saying the store had implemented a mandatory mask policy to comply with public health orders and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The respondents acknowledge that people with disabilities have the right to be accommodated, which may mean exempting them from the requirement to wear a mask or finding other ways to accommodate their disability‐related needs,” Singh writes in his decision. “However, they say that Ms. Rael at no time advised them that she had a disability or otherwise needed accommodation.”

B.C.’s Human Rights Code requires the complainant to demonstrate “alleged facts” that, if proven to be true, could constitute discrimination under the code, according to Singh’s decision.

The tribunal member concluded that Rael’s complaint does not meet this test because she did not provide enough information on the nature of her alleged disability or the harm that came from the alleged discrimination.

“Any claim of disability discrimination arising from a requirement to wear a mask must begin by the complainant establishing they have a disability and explaining why it interferes with their ability to wear the mask,” Singh writes. “Ms. Rael’s mere assertion of ‘breathing issues,’ without more, is insufficient to establish a disability under the Code.”

Singh adds that, without telling the store that her reason for declining to wear a mask was disability-related, Rael couldn’t reasonably claim that the store should have accommodated her.

“While complainants are not required, for valid privacy reasons, to divulge detailed particulars of their disability when seeking accommodation, they should, at a minimum, inform a service provider that they require some form of disability‐related accommodation to trigger a service provider’s duty to accommodate,” Singh writes. 

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