Employment & Labour, Human Rights

Nova Scotia human rights board awards nearly $600,000 for racist discrimination


HALIFAX — A human rights board has ordered the City of Halifax to pay almost $600,000 in damages after a former bus mechanic suffered racist discrimination.

Last year, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission board of inquiry in the case found widespread racial discrimination and a poisoned work environment at Halifax Transit’s garage.

The mechanic filed the complaint with the rights commission more than 12 years ago, in July 2006, saying the worker suffered from trauma due to the hostile workplace.

The worker’s lawyer had asked for the maximum amount awarded under Canadian law for general damages.

Board inquiry chair Lynn Evans awarded more than $105,000 in general damages to the mechanic and $33,015 to his wife, and also set penalties of $21,675 for the cost of future care for the mechanic and $433,077 for past and future lost income.

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto employment lawyer John Donkor says employers should pay close attention to the outcome in this case because it signals that adjudicative bodies are “ready and willing” to increase damages for discriminatory conduct in the workplace.

“It’s all the more important for employers to adopt internal procedures that identify these issues early and provide some form of internal dispute resolution mechanisms. Once addressed, most of these issues can be resolved without having to get to this point,” says Donkor, principal of Donkor Employment & Labour Law.

The award, in particular, the quantum, is in line with recent Ontario awards where, in two 2018 cases, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario awarded damages for injuries to dignity, feelings and self-respect to the tune of $75,000 and $200,000, he says.

“In the Nova Scotia case, among the nearly $600,000 awarded, $105,000 was earmarked for general damages, likely for injuries to dignity, feelings and self-respect,” Donkor says.

While all employers are vulnerable when it comes to human rights damages, institutional organizations are big targets, Donkor says.

“Public sector employers such as school boards — and in this case municipalities — are often expected to have measures in place to address these issues,” he says. “When they don’t, or they neglect to follow them, this is the potential outcome they face.

“The other takeaway is that it may signal to applicants that human rights bodies may be the more expeditious route to get a considerable tax-free remedy,” Donkor adds. “It’s also quite possible it will serve as a warning in other jurisdictions that it’s open season on employers who fail to address issues of discrimination amongst staff.”

The complainant, whose name is protected from publication, is white, but his wife is African Nova Scotian, and black and Indigenous co-workers also suffered under the actions of a bus mechanic who no longer works at the garage.

— With files from AdvocateDaily.com

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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