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Spruce Hill Resort discriminated against woman with cancer: BC Human Rights Tribunal

BC Human Rights Tribunal orders 108 Mile resort to pay more than $16,000 in compensation

Spruce Hill Resort & Spa has been ordered to pay a woman $16,536 in damages after it refused to give her a massage because she had a history of cancer.

BC Human Rights Tribunal member Beverly Froese found the resort had discriminated against the woman, whose name is being withheld due to privacy issues, after she showed up for an appointment at the resort in 108 Mile Ranch in the fall of 2017. The woman, who had had a double mastectomy and left central lymph node procedure with immediate reconstruction earlier that spring, followed by chemotherapy, was “basically bald” when she showed up for her appointment.

As a result, she said, the spa attendant appeared uncomfortable, leaving her on the massage table while she consulted the general manager. The attendant then returned to inform the woman that it was Spruce Hill’s policy not to give a massage to anyone with cancer or a history of cancer without a doctor’s note, according to the tribunal ruling, released on Aug. 12.

“The spa attendant told the client she could not get a massage because of the risk that it might cause the cancer to travel out of her lymph nodes and into the rest of her body,” Froese wrote.

She noted Spruce Hill did not respond to the allegations or participate in the hearing, despite being contacted several times since 2017.

“The client’s evidence was that she did not have active cancer when she went to Spruce Hill for the massage. However, it is clear on the evidence that the spa attendant’s perception of the client, based on her lack of hair, was that she had active cancer or was still in some way impaired because of her history of cancer,” Froese wrote in her ruling.

“The denial of the massage was directly linked to the client’s perceived disability.”

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Froese ordered Spruce Hill to review its existing policy within three months of the date of the decision and implement a non‐discriminatory policy on providing massages to people with cancer or a history of cancer. Spruce Hill was also told to refrain from committing the same or a similar contravention and ensure its massage therapists and spa staff were aware of the changes to its policy regarding providing massage services to people with cancer or a history of cancer.

Froese also ordered the resort to pay the woman $1,536 in lost earnings, related to her having to attend an early settlement meeting, a short service clinic, an appointment with a lawyer, and the hearing, as well as $15,000 compensation for injury to dignity, feelings, and self‐respect.

“The client was alone in the therapy room, naked except for a towel, while she listened to the spa attendant talk to others about her appearance. Because of her previous cancer diagnosis and surgery, the client was denied a massage without a doctor’s note,” Froese wrote. “She was not given an opportunity to discuss the situation with the spa attendant or anyone else at Spruce Hill but instead was abruptly asked to leave.”

Kin Wa Chan, owner of the Spruce Hill Resort, told the Free Press Thursday that the spa has a policy not to treat anyone with cancer, as it could result in the cancer spreading throughout their body.

“Our policy is that if people get the cancer we cannot help them with a massage,” he said in a phone interview. “My staff is not allowed to do it.”

He said he still has to review the tribunal ruling and speak with his staff but would likely appeal the orders. “I’m so sorry about the customer. For me, of course, I want to do business,” he said, but added: “I don’t want to pay this kind of bill, it’s not fair to me.”

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