the Supreme Court of Canada sided with the BC Teachers’ Federation in its
efforts to defend pregnancy leave rights. In a rare move, the justices of the
Supreme Court issued an oral decision immediately after oral arguments were
made. That decision was unanimous, agreeing with our union position that
denying parental benefits to birth mothers, because they received pregnancy
benefits, was discriminatory.
Following the decision, BCTF President Jim Iker said: “this victory at the
Supreme Court of Canada is one for all working women who are pregnant or may
become pregnant in the future.” Jim also publicly acknowledged and thanked
Robyn Trask and Diane MacDonald, the BCTF’s own in-house lawyers who argued the
case, as well as the individual Surrey teachers and Surrey Teachers’
Association, who first took this fight on.
With this decision, the Supreme Court of Canada said employers cannot
discriminate against pregnant women and that benefit plans for new parents must
be consistent with the Charter of Rights
The ruling stems from a grievance first filed by the STA and the BCTF in 2011
after teachers employed by the Surrey School District were denied parental
leave benefits following the births of their children. The union took the
position that birth mothers are entitled to pregnancy leave and that all
parents (including birth mothers) are also entitled to parental leave. The
union argued it was discriminatory to deny birth mothers parental leave because
the two forms of leave serve different purposes.
At arbitration, the BCTF was successful in its arguments and the arbitrator
found that the denial of parental benefits to birth mothers violated the Charter
and the Human Rights Code.
However, a subsequent ruling at the BC Court of
Appeal overturned that arbitrator’s decision. Yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme
Court of Canada restores the arbitrator’s decision and sends the matter back to
the parties to renegotiate in a non-discriminatory manner. The arbitrator
retains jurisdiction if the parties are unable to reach an
For specific questions about pregnancy leave (leave for physical recovery
following a birth) and parental leave (leave for caring for and bonding with a
child) consult your local collective agreement. You should also consult your local association