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Summary: HRTO Decision in Swain v. MBM Intellectual Property Law LLP

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The OHRC intervened in Swain v. MBM Intellectual Property Law LLP, a case which considered whether an equity partner in a law firm is protected against discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The OHRC intervened to argue that the social areas of employment and contracts should be given the broadest possible interpretation so that, regardless of the particular arrangement people use to carry out their work (employment, contractual or partnership), in Ontario, they receive the Code’s protections against discrimination and harassment.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario was asked to dismiss the discrimination claim of a woman who was a founding partner in a law firm on the basis that, as an equity partner, she was not covered under either the social area of employment or contracts.

The Tribunal accepted the OHRC’s position that there is no “human rights free zone” in the workplace and that activities connected to earning a living within a partnership is an important “social area” within which to recognize the dignity and worth of every individual. 

The Tribunal agreed with the OHRC’s submission that the Ontario Code does not require a person to be an “employee” to be protected against discrimination with respect to employment. It also agreed that the protection against discrimination in contracts is very broad and includes allegations of discrimination in partnership relationships.

This decision means that individuals who work in partnership arrangements have the protection of the Ontario Human Rights Code, under the social area of contracts, employment or both, depending on the specific facts of the case.