AHRC Resists Adding Employees As Respondents

By: Joel Fairbrother

Published: 20 April 2023

Reed v CNRL, 2023 AHRC 43 (C Dickins) is an Alberta Human Rights Commission decision where the complainant attempted to add an individual employee as a respondent (the party being sued).  The complainant was unsuccessful.

This case provides some insight into the sorts of situations that the AHRC will exercise its discretion to add individual employees as respondents.


The following are the pertinent facts summarized by the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal:

  • The complainant Adele Reed was an employee of Canadian Natural Resources Limited (“CNRL”)
  • She filed a complaint against CNRL and a personal responded Jeff Hillier- a CNRL manager at the relevant time- alleging sexual harassment in employment
  • Hillier is the alleged harasser
  • The AHRC initially accepted the complaint as against CNRL, but not as against Jeff Hillier
  • The complainant brought this application under section 28 of the Alberta Human Rights Act to add Mr. Hillier as a personal respondent
  • The issue on the application was whether Mr. Hillier fit within the definition of an “employer” you can bring a complaint against under section 7 of the AHRA

Analysis / Conclusion

AHRC Member Cynthia Dickins explained that the AHRC  has jurisdiction to add a personal respondent in some employment cases, and provided the following guidance on the appropriate test for consideration:

[22]      The test is:

a) Whether there are facts alleged that, if proven, could support a finding that the proposed respondent violated the complainant’s rights; and

b) Whether the addition of the proposed respondent would cause substantial prejudice to the respondent’s ability to make full answer and defence to the allegations that cannot be alleviated by procedural orders of the Tribunal.

[23]      However, this test must be considered along with a number of other factors and applied by the Tribunal only where it is necessary to give effect to the purpose of the legislation, which is to reduce discrimination and to provide an effective monetary remedy to the complainant.

[24]      The discretion to add a personal respondent must be exercised with careful attention to fairness, the integrity of the Tribunal’s processes and prudent use of public resources.

The complainant’s argument was, although individual respondents are usually added where the other respondent is insolvent, nothing in the test summarized above would prevent the Human Rights Commission from adding Mr. Hillier as a respondent, even where CNRL is not insolvent, especially given that he is the person that had allegedly engaged in the harassment of the complainant.

The human rights commission decided not to add the personal employee as a respondent.  The reasoning is brief:

[31]      While the broad remedial powers of the Act permit expanding the parties to include an individual who is personally implicated in the complaint, I find there is no compelling juridical reason to add a personal respondent in order to place the complainant in the position she would have been in, but for the contravention of the Act.

My Take

I am not at all surprised that counsel for the complainant brought this application, because prior to this decision there was not much guidance on when the AHRC would be willing to add a personal respondent in the employment context.

To me, this decision stands for these propositions: (1) unless the complainant can show a very good reason why an individual manager employee should be named as a respondent, such as when the main employer is insolvent, the AHRC will not allow it (2) the fact that the individual manager is the person who did all the alleged illegal acts (i.e. sexual harassment) will not normally be enough on its own to add them as a respondent.

The decision is not explicit on the point, but this is how I read it.

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