Saskatoon police officer alleges discrimination based on her religion

Constable ranking should have been maintained: Arbitrator
|Canadian Labour Reporter|Last Updated: 01/29/2019

A long-serving member of the Saskatoon Police Service said the employer demoted her to a lower rank and lower salary level after she asked for accommodation due to her newfound religious beliefs.

Anastasia Papouches had 13 years of service when on Dec. 1, 2015, she was transferred into a CopLogic position, after she requested the accommodation. (The CopLogic department handled less serious police calls via an online reporting system available to the public.)

Papouches became a member of the Living Church of God in 2014. Part of the religion’s belief system included restrictions on working on the Sabbath, which was defined as Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset, or on any other holy days.

As well, the church disavowed the carrying of firearms as it would violate the commandment “Thou shall not kill.”

On Aug. 26, 2015, Papouches made a formal request to be transferred to a department that would accommodate those beliefs, leading to the eventual CopLogic position.

While the service looked for a suitable position, Papouches worked file-management duties for the watch commander’s office. During this time, she was paid at the constable rate.

However, when Papouches was transferred to the CopLogic department, the new position included a demotion and $20,000 less per year in salary. She was paid at the constable rate at first, but on Jan. 18, 2016, Papouches received a letter from the deputy chief that said, as of Feb. 1, she would be moved to a special constable position, which entailed the lower salary and rank.

On Feb. 4, Papouches and the Saskatoon Police Association filed a grievance. Papouches was returned to the constable rank on Jan. 1, 2017, as a special events coordinator, but in the interim she estimated a loss of $18,000 in salary.

The grievance also asked for an extra $5,000 for “loss of feeling, dignity or self-respect as a result of the discrimination.”

Complicating the matter was the fact that both the union and employer hadn’t come to a written deal in the collective agreement about how employees in the CopLogic department were to be paid. 

Arbitrator Daniel Ish (backed by fellow board members Shelley Ballard and Bernie Eiswirth) upheld the grievance. “(Papouches) is entitled as a remedy to payment of all lost wages as a result of the transfer to the special constable position, without loss of seniority or benefits. We make no ruling with respect to other human rights damages as requested by the union.”

Even though the employer argued that employees in the CopLogic department were supposed to be ranked as special constable, past practice showed that it was often staffed by officers in the constable rank.

“In our opinion, it would have been reasonable for the employer to leave her in the CopLogic position at her constable rank and salary even though, in the future, circumstances may cause that decision to be revisited,” said Ish.

As well, the police department said by continuing to pay Papouches at the constable rate for lesser-rated work, it would face undue hardship. 

But, said Ish, “the history of the CopLogic division and its staffing causes us to conclude that a reasonable accommodation for (Papouches), which would not impose undue hardship on the employer, was to continue to employ her in the CopLogic position but as a constable, rather than as a special constable (a lower rank with a lower salary).”

Reference:

Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners and Saskatoon Police Association. Daniel Ish — arbitrator. Rob Gibbings for the employer. Gary Bainbridge for the employee. Dec. 3, 2018. 

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