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When faith and public service collide: the Christian Horizons decision

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In April 2008, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario released its decision in the case of Connie Heintz v. Christian Horizons. The decision has a significant impact for faith-based and other organizations that provide services to the general public. Such organizations must make sure their hiring policies and practices do not unreasonably restrict or exclude the employment of persons based on grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Ms. Heintz, an individual of deep Christian faith, and a model employee for five years with Christian Horizons, was providing care and support to people with developmental disabilities. When first hired, she was required to sign a Lifestyle and Morality Statement, which prohibits, among other things, homosexual relationships. After several years, Ms. Heintz came to terms with her sexual orientation as a lesbian. When Christian Horizons discovered this, they advised her that she was not complying with the Statement and required her to leave the organization.

The Tribunal ruled that Christian Horizons could not require its employees to sign the Statement. It found that Christian Horizons is primarily engaged in serving the disability-related needs of its clients, and since its services were not limited to Christian clients, the prohibition on homosexual relationships was not a legitimate job requirement.

The Tribunal awarded Ms. Heintz lost wages, general damages and damages for mental anguish. It also ordered Christian Horizons to: no longer require employees to sign a lifestyle and morality statement; develop anti-discrimination policies; provide training to all employees and managers; and review all of its employment policies to make sure that they comply with the Code.

This decision, which is under appeal, is important because it sets out the obligations of faith-based and other organizations when their services extend beyond solely focusing on the interests of their particular community. In such situations, organizations cannot institute job requirements that are discriminatory.

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