Recently, a Nova Scotia Human Rights Board of Inquiry awarded a record $593,417 in damages, including $105,650 for injury to dignity and $433,077 for wage loss, to a former Halifax transit worker employed as a mechanic who suffered racial harassment and discrimination at work.
In a previous ruling released in March 2018, Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission board of inquiry chair Lynn Connors found widespread racial discrimination and a poisoned work environment at Halifax Transit’s garage. The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) was found vicariously liable for the actions of their employees.
“I find based on the facts and the case law that HRM was liable for the actions of its employees and did not do enough to curb their inappropriate behaviour.”
During the hearing, it was revealed that the mechanic filed his complaint with the Human Rights Commission nearly 12 years ago, in July 2006. He was diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder linked to a “hostile working environment.” He was seeking more than $1.4 million through $367,000 in damages and $1.053 million in lost earnings and pension. After the hearing to consider damages in the case, the inquiry board chairwoman Lynn Connors reserved her decision to assess damages. Connors retained jurisdiction to reconvene on another hearing date (which occurred in June 2018) to receive further oral and written submissions from the parties in regards to damages.
The award for damages came down on May 15, 2019.
What happened leading up to the complaint and award?
The complainant is white, but his wife is African Nova Scotian. Black and Indigenous co-workers also suffered under the actions of former bus mechanic Arthur Maddox, who no longer works for the transit service. Connors stated that the complainant had been frightened and terrorized. This is what happened:
Allegations included a message scrawled on the men’s bathroom wall that said “all minorities not welcome; show you care, burn a cross.” It was signed by “a member of the Baby Hitler.”
Maddox is also quoted as allegedly saying “racism should be a law that you can shoot somebody and get away with it.”
The complainant arrived at a social function with his African Nova Scotian wife to hear Maddox allegedly say loudly: “We don’t want those kind of people here.”
Evans said his client also feared for his physical safety.
He said Maddox tried to hit the complainant with a bus, and during another incident, he was nearly hit in the head with a lug nut that had been “thrown or launched” near his head.
In a statement, Jacques Dubé, the municipality’s chief administrative officer, said it accepts the damages decision.
“In May of 2018, the municipality accepted the decision of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Board of Inquiry regarding its finding of racial harassment and discrimination by management and co-workers against a transit employee,” Dubé said.
Since the ruling, the municipality has issued an apology to the complainant and his family, and the city says it is committed to a harassment-free workplace where all people are treated with dignity and respect. Training has also been implemented as officials sought to change the culture at the transit garage, which has undergone significant turnover.
Statement regarding the award for damages
Connors stated that she hopes the “monetary award will send a clear message to Halifax Regional Municipality and its supervisors of what their legal obligations are under the Human Rights Act to investigate and address potential violations under the Act.”
It was reported by the media that the complainant and his lawyer are reviewing the award.
Lessons for employers
Human rights legislation makes it illegal to discriminate against or harass a person because of that person’s race, colour, ancestry or ethnic/national origin. The grounds of race, colour, ancestry and national or ethnic origin are related, and it is often difficult to draw clear distinctions between them. They are intended to get at the societal problem frequently referred to as “racism.”
In Nova Scotia, the terms found in the Human Rights Act are race, colour and ethnic, national or aboriginal origin. Every person has the right to be free from racial discrimination and harassment. Individuals should not be treated differently because of their race or other related grounds, such as their colour, ethnicity, ancestry or place of origin in employment.
Employers must take action if they know or ought to have known about inappropriate behaviour based on race, colour, ancestry or ethnic and/or national origin. This means that employers have a responsibility to ensure that they are not taking part in, condoning or allowing discrimination or harassment to occur based on these prohibited grounds. Anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and training, including complaint procedures, are valuable tools in promoting equity and diversity within an organization. The adoption, implementation and promotion of these policies can help to limit potential harm and reduce the organization’s liability in the event of a complaint.
In addition, employers can take a number of steps to prevent and appropriately address human rights complaints specifically on the basis of race, colour, ancestry and ethnic and/or national origin, and they include, among others:
- putting in place effective education programs that help those in the workplace gain an understanding of the issues surrounding race, colour, ancestry and ethnic and/or national origin, in addition to the effects of discrimination and harassment based on these grounds;
- training those in the workplace regarding the company’s anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and accommodation policies concerning race, colour, ancestry and ethnic and/or national origin, and being proactive in ongoing monitoring, implementing strategies and evaluating with a view to improvement;
- re-examining existing policies and creating additional policies and procedures in the workplace that promote diversity- this can involve policies relating to recruiting attempts or inclusive events in the workplace; and
- saying no to racism and racial discrimination oneself such that others can follow the example.