A former firefighter is alleging she was discriminated against by Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Services because of her gender and disability. A human rights board inquiry began today looking into the allegations.
The board heard from Kathleen Symington on Wednesday about events leading up to the complaint she filed in April 2016.
According to Symington, she first began her career as a firefighter with the municipality in 1997. She called it a dream job but says things started to change a few years later when a captain made sexual advances towards her.
The captain’s name is under a publication ban and so the individual is being referred to as AB.
Symington says she was friends with AB at first but that the advances and comments made her uncomfortable. She says she told AB she was not interested and asked him to stop, and when he didn’t, she tried her best to avoid him and ignore any comments or advances.
Symington says after she turned AB down, her vehicle was vandalized while at work. She says there were holes punched in her windows and bumpers. She believed they were created by a tool firefighters use to break through car windows in emergencies. She says she believed AB to be the culprit.
She brought her concerns to the deputy chief’s attention. She says that at the time, she was told that AB’s name had been brought forward already and said he appeared to be acting as a jilted lover. But Symington says she was also told nothing could be done unless she proceeded with a sexual harassment complaint, and if she did, it likely wouldn’t end well and could put her career in jeopardy.
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Symington says she resisted filing a complaint out of concern for her career, but in the summer of 2003, a third-party investigator was hired, and she filed a workplace complaint to the investigator and submitted the same complaint to the human rights board.
In 2004, Symington took time off as a result of a car crash. During her time off, she also took maternity leave. While on leave, her human rights complaint was dismissed, and the third-party investigator filed a report saying her complaint was not substantiated.
Symington then received a letter saying she was being suspended for three days. Symington claims the letter said that making up allegations is very serious, that the three-day suspension was a “reality check” and that there are consequences “to this behaviour in the workplace.”
She says she was later sent a second suspension letter claiming she was not responding to emails or calls while on leave.
Symington went to the union to submit a grievance to have both letters removed from her file and was told they would be.
She says she returned to work in 2007 without any major incidents but had to go on leave again in 2011 after requiring surgery because of her previous car crash.
In 2013, she attempted to go back to work on accommodation but claims she was told there was no position for her within the fire service.
This is where testimony left off on Wednesday; it will resume again Thursday morning.
Symington’s lawyer, Ron Stockton, says the evidence shows that it is clear her human rights were violated.
“First off, there’s a duty to accommodate a disabled person and failure to accommodate is discriminatory, and second, the human rights complaint act prohibits retaliation for filing or making a complaint in good faith,” Stockton said.
The municipality has declined to comment while the complaint is before the human rights board.
Symington is expected to complete her testimony Thursday, and the municipality will then have a chance to cross-examine her before other witnesses are called.