Alberta Human Rights Commission hear $10-million complaint

A Calgary lawyer is taking the Law Society of Alberta to the province’s Human Rights Commission, alleging a “bizarre pattern of behaviour” that amounted to discrimination and ultimately forced him from the profession.

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A Calgary lawyer is taking the Law Society of Alberta to the province’s Human Rights Commission, alleging a “bizarre pattern of behaviour” that amounted to discrimination and ultimately forced him from the profession.

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A statement of complaint filed in December 2020 by Stephen Dugandzic alleges discrimination on the grounds of physical and mental disabilities, seeking more than $10 million for lost income, damages, and costs of medical and psychological treatment. Hearings are set to begin May 15.

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Dugandzic’s lawyer, Kathryn Marshall, told Postmedia it’s a case of a man who required accommodations, asked for them, but was denied.

“The course and the conduct and the pattern that he was subjected to over the course of many years has destroyed his life,” said Marshall.

“He should be out there practising law and helping people, but instead he’s about to go, in a few months, to have a trial against the law society.”

Dugandzic sustained serious traumatic brain injuries in 2013 before becoming a member of the Law Society of Alberta in 2014, and his complaint alleges that the society intentionally made his health conditions worse.

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“The law society’s conduct was designed to aggravate and exacerbate Dugandzic’s health and ruin his once promising career as a lawyer by running him out of the legal profession entirely,” the complaint states.

The allegations have not been tested or proven in a tribunal hearing.

In response to Postmedia’s request for comment, law society spokeswoman Colleen Brown said, “We do not comment on matters before the Human Rights Commission or the courts.”

Not all complaints fielded by the Human Rights Commission make it to a hearing. Dugandzic’s complaint was initially dismissed by the director of the commission but, after a review, it was sent to a hearing.

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In a review filing, the law society argued that Dugandzic‘s symptoms are separate and apart from the conduct at issue in the complaints made against him, and there was insufficient evidence to draw any connection between his disability and any alleged adverse impact.

Marshall said the case could contribute to a public conversation about professional regulators and their role, highlight the need to address the mental health issues faced by many lawyers and combat the stigma attached.

“I think this case is going to be precedent-setting. I’m not aware of another case like this going against a law society,” said Marshall.

In 2017, Dugandzic said he filed a Law Society of Alberta complaint against labour and employment law firm Taylor Janis LLP, which was dismissed.

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The claim states there were then seven separate professional complaints from other members of the law society against Dugandzic between October 2018 and May 2022, but Marshall said none resulted in any findings of wrongdoing or professional charges and none were brought to a society hearing.

The complaint alleges the society dragged its feet for almost four years, ultimately forcing Dugandzic to step away from practising.

“I can’t comprehend why this all went on for years,” said Marshall, who described the ongoing investigations as a “no man’s land.”

Dugandzic was suspended from practising on July 3, 2020, for not paying his professional liability indemnity levy in 2020-2021. Marshall said her client was forced to take medical leave in 2020, but typically once a member comes back from leave and pays the fee, they are automatically reinstated.

Dugandzic said his reinstatement application in 2021 was rejected by the law society.

In his complaint to the commission, Dugandzic describes being subjected to “a complex web of lies, human rights violations, fraud, conflicts of interest, corruption, contempt, bad faith, stigmatization, oppression, schemes, abuses of process and deliberate mistreatment by an unaccountable and unchecked Law Society of Alberta.”

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