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N.S. Human Rights Commission finds Halifax Transit mechanic discriminated in ‘poisoned work environment’

WATCH: The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has found that a Halifax Transit mechanic was discriminated against more than a decade after the complaint was filed. Natasha Pace explains.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has agreed a Halifax Transit mechanic was discriminated in the workplace, more than a decade after the employee filed a complaint alleging he worked in a “poisoned work environment.”

The employee, whose identity is protected and is referred to as Y.Z., was married to an African Nova Scotian woman.

He filed a formal complaint on July 11, 2006, against the employer, Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).

In it, he alleged his co-workers made degrading and racist comments against African Nova Scotians and other minorities, there was racist graffiti on a wall, and that a co-worker tried to run him over with a bus.

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The employee, who worked for what was known as Metro Transit at the time, went on long-term disability leave at the end of May 2004 because of the stressful work environment.

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He returned to work in July 2006, but left in January 2007 and has been receiving long-term disability benefits until now.

“It was the evidence of Y.Z. that working in the racially poisoned work environment of Metro Transit resulted in the breakdown in his mental and physical health,” the commission’s decision reads.

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In its decision, the commission’s chair, Lynn Connors, said the complainant had been discriminated against and that HRM did not do enough to address the comments and actions that poisoned the work environment.

Connors said it appeared one employee, Arthur Maddox, was the “prime instigator” and “his core group of followers continued on in the workplace and were unchecked and unchallenged until the assault of Randy Symonds,” an African Nova Scotian employee, came to light.

Y.Z. had said that his role as a “support person” for Symonds resulted in him being discriminated against in the workplace.

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Connors said HRM’s counsel argued that HRM was not responsible for the actions of that one employee, who was fired after the incident with Symonds but later reinstated.

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“However, they continue to employ him, they allowed him to proceed unsanctioned throughout the workplace,” Connors pointed out.

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HRM’s CAO responds to commission’s decision

In a statement released Tuesday morning, Halifax’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Jacques Dubé said the municipality respected the board’s decision.

“I apologize, on behalf of the Halifax Regional Municipality, to the complainant and family,” Dubé’s statement reads.

“While our organization has taken concrete steps to build a culture of diversity and inclusion, we have more to do.”

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The statement goes on to say that Dubé is committed to advocating for a harassment-free workplace where people are treated with dignity and respect.

“I expect that everyone working for HRM will live and support our corporate values and work together to ensure that racial harassment and discrimination, in any form, are not tolerated,” he said.

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A remedy hearing has been scheduled for June 4 to discuss the awarding of damages or to assign mandated training.

Connors said she will be hearing further submissions on lost income and future lost income before making a decision.