For immediate publication
Toronto, Ontario – The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario released its decision in the case of Connie Heintz v. Christian Horizons. The decision has a significant impact for faith-based and other organizations that provide services to the general public. Such organizations must ensure their hiring policies and practices do not unreasonably restrict or exclude the employment of persons based on grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Ms. Heintz, an individual of deep Christian faith, and a model employee for five years with Christian Horizons, was providing care and support to individuals with developmental disabilities. Like other employees, when first hired, Ms. Heintz was required to sign a Lifestyle and Morality Statement, which prohibits, among other things, homosexual relationships. After several years, Ms. Heintz came to terms with her sexual orientation as a lesbian. When Christian Horizons discovered this, they advised her that she was not complying with the Statement and required her to leave the organization.
Christian Horizons describes itself as an Evangelical Christian Ministry that provides care and residential services to 1,400 developmentally disabled individuals of all races, creeds and sexual orientations. With over 180 residential homes across Ontario, and 2,500 employees, Christian Horizons is the largest provider of community living services in the province, funded almost exclusively by the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.
The Tribunal ruled that Christian Horizons could not require its employees to sign the Statement. It found that Christian Horizons is primarily engaged in serving the disability-related needs of its clients, and the prohibition on homosexual relationships was not a legitimate job requirement for providing quality care and support to disabled residents.
In addition to awarding Ms. Heintz lost wages, general damages and damages for mental anguish, the decision sets out that Christian Horizons will: no longer require employees to sign a lifestyle and morality statement; develop anti-discrimination policies; provide training to all employees and managers; and review all of its employment policies to ensure that they are in compliance with the Code.
“This decision is important,” commented Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall, “because it sets out that when faith-based and other organizations move beyond serving the interests of their particular community to serving the general public, the rights of others, including employees, must be respected.”
For more information, please visit the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s website: www.ohrc.on.ca.
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