Former kitchen manager takes Village Green Hotel to human rights tribunal - InfoNews

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Former kitchen manager takes Village Green Hotel to human rights tribunal

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April 30, 2019 - 3:00 PM

VERNON - The Village Green Hotel has lost its bid to have a discrimination case thrown out that was brought before a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal by a former employee who says she was let go after 20 years of service while on medical leave.

Former kitchen manager Diane Cottrell alleges the Village Green Hotel and manager Mike Gardner's decision to let her go while she was off sick was based on her physical disability. She also claims she wasn't considered for a new position because of her gender.

The hotel disputes both allegations saying Cottrell's position was dissolved as part of a larger management shuffle and the new position was filled by someone more qualified than her.

In a ruling dated April 25, British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal member Kathleen Smith dismissed the hotel's application to have the case dismissed saying a hearing is necessary to find out whether Cottrell received adverse treatment because of her sex or physical disability.

According to the decision, Cottrell had worked her way up the ladder for over 20 years at the Village Green Hotel, starting as a cook and eventually becoming the Kitchen Manager - a position she had held for six years.

In February 2018, Cottrell underway surgery for a shoulder injury and had to be off work for several months. In March 2018, Cottrell's position was eliminated while she was off work. Cottrell has never returned to work at the hotel.

The complainant argues it was "not a coincidence" she was let go while on medical leave and believes it was because of her disability.

Gardner and the hotel dispute this and they argue the decision to eliminate Cottrell's position was part of a larger restructuring and downsizing which had begun in 2016. The respondents say the positions of restaurant manager, pub manager and kitchen manager were dissolved to become a food and beverage manager position, a job the hotel filled in March 2018.

According to the decision, Gardner offered Cottrell a different position in June 2018 to start the following month. Around this time the hotel received a doctors note saying Cottrell would not be able to return to work for at least two more months. The hotel paid her benefit premiums for 17 weeks as required by law and argue that they had no obligation to pay her beyond that period or hold a position open. In July 2018, Cottrell's employment at the hotel was terminated.

However, Cottrell says a new position was never discussed, she was never given the chance to try for the new food and beverage manager position, and the new male manager brought on board was no more qualified than she was.

The Village Green Hotel calls the allegations of sexism "incredulous" and points to the fact that 10 of 14 managerial positions at the hotel are filled by women. The hotel also claims it was "simply a coincidence" that the decision to dissolve Cottrell's position was done while she was on medical leave.

Tribunal member Smith says the timing of the decision to eliminate Cottrell's position could indicate "a reasonable inference" that "disability-related medical leave was a factor." Smith says the hotel has failed to provide any specific details to support the timing of the elimination of Cottrell's position.

The tribunal member goes onto say Cottrell's assertion that the only "distinguishing feature" between her and the new male food and beverage manager is gender is more than "mere speculation."

The decision states that while nothing in her decision is a reflection on whether Cottrell's complaint will succeed a hearing is necessary.

Smith encourages the two parties to enter Tribunal-assisted mediation to resolve this complaint.

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