Nurses at Kelowna health facility suing over ‘discriminatory’ pay gap | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Nurses at Kelowna health facility suing over ‘discriminatory’ pay gap

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A group of nurse practitioners who work at the Kelowna Urgent and Primary Care Centre are taking the Interior Health Authority and the B.C. Government to court, claiming they’re being paid significantly less than physicians despite offering “identical medical services” to patients at the facility.

In a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Dec. 12, plaintiffs Marissa Dennis, Julia Walker, Genèvieve Dubè, Cammie Lewis, Marjan Vizcaino, Andrew Brown, Sydney Richardson-Carr, and Damian Rawnsley claim that nurse practitioners are paid about 70 percent less than general practitioners at the care centre under a 2019 contract with the defendant Interior Health Authority.

Unlike registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, nurse practitioners are authorized by the province to prescribe drugs and diagnose ailments “independent of physician supervision.” Under their multi-year contract with Interior Health, they’re paid $89.30 an hour in their first year, jumping to $95.24 in the deal’s third year. Meanwhile, general practitioners at the Kelowna facility are paid $151.48 an hour, topped up to $163 an hour under a “Physician Master Agreement” with the B.C. government.

“This means that GPs at the Kelowna (care centre) are paid approximately 70 [percent] more, or $67 per hour more, than (nurse practitioners),” the lawsuit states. “Nurses have, and continue to be, compensated at a lower rate than the practice of medicine by general practitioners. This is so even as the distinction between their respective roles, and particularly between NPs and GPs, becomes narrower.”

While two of the plaintiffs are male, the lawsuit takes issue with how nursing has historically been considered “care work” associated with feminine gender stereotypes. The practice of medicine, on the other hand, is still a male-dominated profession which commands greater compensation due to being characterized as “scientific.”

“Historically and culturally, medicine continues to be conceptualized as men’s work, and nursing as women’s work, grounded in stereotypes of women as ‘naturally’ caring and men as ‘naturally’ scientific,” the claim states.

In effect, the plaintiffs claim the contracts with physicians and nurse practitioners create an unconstitutional “discriminatory distinction … based on gender.”

Since the nursing profession continues to be dominated by women, the lawsuit seeks to break the “systemic disadvantage” that has seen their labour undervalued compared to male counterparts with similar or identical duties. 

“The Group Contracts compensate two groups of professionals who provide identical care services differently based on arbitrary, prejudicial and stereotypical ideas about nurses and physicians, and by extension, gender,” the lawsuit states. “The pay differential between the two groups is based on discriminatory concepts about the value of the work of nurses as being lower than the value of the work of doctors because of the lower value attributed to ‘women’s work’ than ‘men’s work.’”

The plaintiffs claim the contracts violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by discriminating against nurse practitioners based on gender. They seek unspecified damages and a declaration that the contracts are contrary to the Charter, as well as an order for the province and the health authority to offer a new contract to nurse practitioners at the Kelowna care centre.

The lawsuit’s allegations have not been tested or proven in court and neither the province nor the Interior Health Authority had filed responses to the claim by press time.

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