A man who alleged that disclosure of a “mental disability” led to discrimination at, and eventual barring from, a White Rock yoga studio has had his complaint dismissed by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
According to reasons released by the HRT on Aug. 23, there “is no reasonable prospect” that facts – including that the discrimination began after he told a staff member he was “seeking help with sex addiction” – supporting the complaint filed by Erik Rutherford against Westcoast Hot Yoga will be proven at a hearing.
Westcoast had countered that the steps against Rutherford were taken as a result of “harassing behaviour that was rendering staff and other clients uncomfortable.”
Tribunal member Emily Ohler found that, “While the timing could weigh in favour of Mr. Rutherford’s assertion that his disclosure of his mental disability factored into the treatment he received, there is nothing in the materials that could support a finding that Mr. Rutherford’s mental disability was a factor in the behaviour Westcoast points to as informing its decision to bar him.
“Rather, it is reasonably certain the Respondent would establish its non-discriminatory explanation of having chosen to ask Mr. Rutherford to practice elsewhere because of his ‘constant harassing by text, email and phone to teachers and the studio’ with his allegations of gossip and his upset over the Coach not accepting him as a client at her business – behaviours that were causing conflict and discomfort for staff and clients.”
At the time of the complaint to the HRT, Rutherford had been a client of Westcoast for about eight years, the reasons state.
Ohler notes that Rutherford filed a complaint in June 2018 with the Better Business Bureau, after a Westcoast employee who has her own personal-coaching business outside of the yoga studio declined to accept him as a client, after he told her he was looking for help with sex addiction. She said it was not her field, the reasons state.
In the BBB complaint, “Mr. Rutherford says that the Coach ‘denied the writer help with depression, adjustment disorder and help with relationships,’” the reasons state.
“She told the owner instead of offering help.
“Westcoast says this was when things escalated.”
Rutherford admitted, the reasons note, that he contacted the employee “partly due to my mental disability as she is an attractive healthy woman.”
In his complaint to the HRT, Rutherford said he felt comfortable speaking freely about his personal life because he was a long-standing client, and disclosed his previous struggles with addiction to staff “at some point in 2017.”
“He says that after this, staff began to be less friendly to him and alleges they were looking at him differently and gossiping about him.”
He also complained that he was no longer permitted to purchase a five-class package that he had “routinely” purchased previously.
Rutherford further alleged that a Westcoast staff member who he ran into at a coffee shop in February 2018 said to him “we don’t think you’re that healthy mentally.”
He spoke with the studio owner around March 25, 2018, to “try to resolve the changes in his interactions with Westcoast.”
“He says he explained that addictions and depression are common among professionals, and that practicing yoga helped him recover from his prior addictions to alcohol and pornography and he was now nine-years sober,” the reasons state.
Westcoast officials told the tribunal that Rutherford’s mental health “had nothing to do with any of its actions.”
“Rather, the problem was that after the Coach declined to accept him as a client of her business, Mr. Rutherford began phoning, texting and emailing Westcoast staff at all hours, making staff and some clients uncomfortable. It says it asked Mr. Rutherford to stop but he did not.”
Westcoast “asserts that the reason he was ultimately asked to practice yoga elsewhere was when he failed to ‘stop harassing us with emails and false accusations against teachers.’”