Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario does not strike out Cleveland Indians’ logo complaint

By Joseph M. Hanna

27 June 2017

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario will go ahead and hear the complaint against the Cleveland Indians over their controversial team name and logo, Chief Wahoo. Tribunal Adjudicator Jo-Anne Pickel will not defer the case brought by Douglas Cardinal in October 2016. The case is also progressing through the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). Pickel will not defer to the CHRC since the Tribunal is further along in the process. The advanced stage of the litigation in the Tribunal would make it inappropriate for Pickel to defer to the federal Commission. The Commission is still considering if there is even jurisdiction for the Commission to take up the claim. While Pickel is concerned about an inconsistent application of law if both the Tribunal and Commission proceed concurrently, she was not willing to oblige Cleveland’s request for the Tribunal to defer. Instead, Pickel suggests the Commission should defer to the Tribunal since they are still in the infancy stages.

In late May, the Cleveland Indians and MLB argued the Humans Rights Tribunal lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Their argument was the issue should be brought under Canada’s Trademark Act and not human rights legislation. Pickel also rejected that argument. The Tribunal ruled Cardinal was bringing the suit in response to the specific context of the logo and the logo being cultural appropriation. Pickel held that following Cleveland’s reasoning an employee would have to bring a trademark suit against their employer if the employer posted an offensive image in the workplace.

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About the Author

Joseph M. Hanna

Joseph M. Hanna

Joseph Hanna is a partner of Goldberg Segalla and concentrates his practice in commercial litigation with a focus on sports and entertainment law and retail, hospitality, and development litigation. Joe represents sports franchises, professional athletes, and movie studios with various issues related to licensing, contracts, and day-to-day management. He serves as Chair of Goldberg Segalla’s Sports and Entertainment Law Practice Group and editor of the firm’s Sports and Entertainment Law Insider blog. In addition, Joe is the Chair of Goldberg Segalla's Diversity Task Force. He possesses an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell.
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