Lawyer says client deserves $367,000 in Halifax racial discrimination case

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WATCH: The lawyer for a Halifax transit worker who complained about racial discrimination in his workplace says he should be awarded the maximum amount allowed for general damages. Jeremy Keefe joins us in studio to bring us the latest – Jun 4, 2018

A former Halifax transit worker is seeking more than $1.4 million after a human rights inquiry found his workplace was rife with racist bullying.

“He suffered severe and devastating psychological injuries,” Bruce Evans, lawyer for the bus mechanic, said Monday.

In a ruling released last week, a Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission board of inquiry found widespread racial discrimination and a “poisoned work environment” at the transit garage.

A hearing was convened Monday to consider damages in the case; inquiry board chairwoman Lynn Connors reserved decision.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia has to do more to confront systemic racism

Evans said his client, whose name is protected under a publication ban, is looking for the maximum amount awarded under Canadian law for general damages, $367,000, and another $1.053 million in lost earnings and pension.

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Evans said his client was diagnosed as having post traumatic stress disorder linked to a “hostile working environment.”

The mechanic filed his complaint with the rights commission nearly 12 years ago, in July 2006.

He is white, but his wife is African-Nova Scotian, and black and Indigenous co-workers also suffered under the actions of former bus mechanic Arthur Maddox, who no longer works for the transit service.

In last week’s ruling, Connors said the complainant had been frightened and terrorized.

Allegations included a message scrawled on the men’s bathroom wall, which 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 Scotia 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.

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“We are really looking at in my view the higher end of what general damages can be under human rights law,” said commission lawyer Jason Cooke.

Cooke said the previous maximum award paid out in Nova Scotia – $35,000 – would be “grossly inadequate” in this case.

“It still shocks me that we are talking about events that happened in the 21st century, that people were using the kind of language they used openly … and they were using it without consequence,” he said.

WATCH: N.S. Human Rights Commission finds Halifax Transit mechanic was discriminated against

Click to play video 'N.S. Human Rights Commission finds Halifax Transit mechanic was discriminated against' N.S. Human Rights Commission finds Halifax Transit mechanic was discriminated against
N.S. Human Rights Commission finds Halifax Transit mechanic was discriminated against – May 29, 2018

However, the lawyer for the Halifax Regional Municipality, Randolph Kinghorne, said the usual range for human rights awards in Canada is often between $30,000 and $40,000, and awarding the maximum would not be reasonable.

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The board of inquiry is also considering whether further public remedies are needed.

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.

Kinghorne said training has also been implemented as officials sought to change the culture at the transit garage, which has undergone significant turnover.

Cooke said the commission believes the municipality has worked to improve the atmosphere.

“I don’t think there is anything that you could order, that isn’t being done now,” Cooke told Connors.

But Evans said a recommendation should be made to set targets on minority hirings.

“If you want to have the interests of people of colour and different ethnic origins properly treated, you have to have some of them in the workplace,” he said.