Why be nice to lawyers?
I may sound biased, but I think it is always important to be nice to lawyers. Sam was not.
Sam worked in a large hotel in Vancouver and was of Iranian descent. A co-worker was making racist comments, including noting that another Iranian employee’s skin was darker because it was “dirt.” Sam asked the employer to move him to a different kitchen in the hotel and they refused. He felt he had no choice but to resign and filed a human rights complaint.
Over the next three years, while the complaint was winding its way through the system, Sam sent some fairly nasty emails to the hotel’s lawyer. When writing to clarify something Sam did not agree with in the hotel’s written response to the complaint, he ended the letter with “Please clarify that with your scumbag associates.” In another letter, Sam wrote “Go to hell for defending racism you dirtbag. Shame on you jerks.” On another occasion, “Enjoy defending racism scumbag.”
When the hotel’s lawyer sent a letter to the human rights tribunal complaining about Sam’s behaviour, he replied with “Defenders of racism deserve to be told the truth. Sorry to hurt your ego. Defending racism is low of the low.”
The rules set by the tribunal required participants in the process to treat all persons in the course of a complaint with courtesy and respect. This had been pointed out to Sam, but he wasn’t listening.
Next, Sam threatened to organize a protest on the street outside the lawyer’s office, although that never happened. He told her “You are going to be famous for defending racism.” Then he threatened to file a human rights complaint against the lawyer’s “bottom-feeding law firm.” He said she would be the laughing stock of Vancouver.
When Sam corresponded with the case manager at the human rights tribunal he was always very polite. He saved his wrath for the hotel’s lawyer. He accused the lawyer of being dishonest and withholding documents and said she was a “disgusting human for defending someone who compares skin colour to dirt.”
In another message, Sam called the hotel a “garbage racist” and asked “What is it like climbing the corporate ladder while selling your soul to evil racists?”
At one point in the process, Sam was directed by the tribunal to stop sending rude, derogatory or otherwise inappropriate personal comments about the hotel or its legal counsel.
When Sam got notice of a motion to dismiss his claim because of his behaviour, he threatened to sue the law firm for discrimination.
Ultimately, the adjudicator in the case decided Sam’s behaviour was egregious and was unlikely to stop if the matter was allowed to go to a hearing.
There is no suggestion that Sam’s complaint was not important or serious. Sam’s right to be heard was outweighed by the harm that would be done to the human rights process if he were allowed to proceed. His claim was dismissed. Whether someone is involved with the human rights tribunal process or some other sort of litigation, they should always assume the letters they write will end up in front of a judge. Even if the case is not dismissed, insulting lawyers will never endear you to the lawyer sitting on the bench.
Ed Canning practises employment and human rights law with Ross & McBride LLP, in Hamilton, representing both employers and employees. Email him at email@example.com.
This article was originally posted on The Hamilton Spectator, where Ed Canning is a freelance contributing columnist.