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Employment & Labour

Creation of task force as part of HRTO settlement 'monumental'

In a monumental and precedent-setting move, OCAD University has agreed to create a Presidential Task Force with the objective of raising the percentage of racialized and indigenous employees in all levels of the university – and seek increased diversity in the curriculum – as part of a settlement with former instructor, Errol Saldanha, who brought his case before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, says Toronto employment lawyer Natalie MacDonald.

Saldanha, represented by MacDonald, claimed he was passed over every time he tried to advance at the university because he is not white.

In September, reports the National Post, Saldanha told the tribunal, “If you are a person of colour in my department, you do not advance. I asked for senior courses. Can I move up, teach a higher-level course? I am an expert in this area. They went out of their way at every opportunity to ostracize me.”

Saldanha graduated from OCAD University in 1990 and began teaching graphic design there in 2002, says the Post.

The tribunal held its first hearing into the complaint in September. A settlement was reached between the parties in March. Apart from the creation of the task force, all other terms of the settlement are confidential.

“The creation of a Presidential Task Force is a monumental remedy,” says MacDonald, a founding partner of Rudner MacDonald LLP. “It is not something that can be ordered by a Tribunal."

MacDonald, author of Extraordinary Damages in Canadian Employment Law, tells AdvocateDaily.com the remedy is incredibly rare, especially at the human rights level.

“I am thrilled to see it because this Task Force has the ability to ensure that there is racialized and indigenous representation in all levels of OCAD. I believe that this will be an action task force and and use the goal of increasing diversity to guide it,” she says.

“While public interest remedies in human rights litigation are available, the creation of a Task Force is highly unusual. Usually, such remedies involve implementation of policies and procedures, or programs and training, not the creation of a Task Force. By far, I would say this is one of the greatest resolutions I’ve ever seen in a mediation. It’s precedent setting. It’s very significant.”

MacDonald discussed human rights remedies in the context of employment law during a Google Hangout on May 7

She says she would like to see the ripple effects of the resolution extend beyond OCAD.

“I hope that it will have a tremendously positive impact on other universities, and any other institution in terms of understanding and achieving positive change for racialized and indigenous employees, ” she says.

“A task force is an excellent way to take the pulse of an organization and to be able to ensure that the organization carries through with its mandate. I think that my client is at the forefront of helping to change OCAD and other institutions like it for the better by virtue of the creation of this presidential task force and the fact that Errol will be part of that.”

The task force is expected to be established by Nov. 30, 2015 says MacDonald.

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