Highest amount ever awarded by Grievance Settlement Board for breach of Ontario Human Rights Code and breaking a collective agreement.
A gay, former Ottawa prison guard has been awarded $98,000 in damages for harassment related to his sexual orientation.
The July decision by the Grievance Settlement Board, which handles complaints from Ontario public servants, is the largest amount ever awarded for a breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code and breaking a collective agreement.
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services was ordered to pay Robert Ranger $45,000 for the rights code violation and another $53,000 because it took several years to find him a new job. The decision ends a decade-long odyssey for redress by Ranger.
“The harassment and discrimination that created a poisoned workplace at the Ottawa-Carlton Detention (Centre) was vile,” board vice-chair Deborah Leighton wrote in her decision.
Ranger started working at the Ottawa jail in 1998; in December 2002, he filed a complaint with the board seeking $3.5 million in damages.
He claimed his employer did not prevent fellow employees and managers from discriminating against him, thereby creating a homophobic and poisoned work environment.
As a result, Ranger became depressed and suicidal. He went on disability for three years, from February 2002 to March 2005. The hearing into the matter took 66 hearing days over 4.5 years.
A 2003 investigation into Ranger’s allegations revealed he was repeatedly taunted with simulated sex acts, offensive language and derogatory emails expressing strong anti-homosexual opinions.
A fellow corrections officer also made sexual jokes at Ranger’s expense during a February 2002 training session.
In 2004, Deputy Minister John Rabeau adopted the conclusions in the investigator’s report and sent Ranger a letter of apology.
Based on Rabeau’s letter and other evidence at the hearing, Leighton concluded in a January 2010 decision that the comments and gestures, along with emails and jokes at Ranger’s expense, amounted to discrimination based on sexual orientation.
She also noted that the ministry did not take any steps to address the poisoned workplace.
All of the documentation suggests Ranger was ready to return to work in the summer of 2003, as long as it was not at the Ottawa-Carlton Detention Centre.
However, Leighton found the employer failed to accommodate him from April 2003 until shortly before he was offered a temporary position in early 2005, thereby breaching both the Human Rights Code and the collective agreement.
Furthermore, when the temporary position concluded, Ranger did not get a full-time desk job in a probation and parole office until 2010 — after Leighton had ruled in his favour on the merits of the grievances filed.
Subsequently he got a counter position in the same office where he still works, while continuing to receive the same higher rate of pay as a corrections officer.
Leighton agreed with the union that significant damages were due, but nowhere near the $3.5 million sought.
She ordered the ministry to pay $98,000 to compensate Ranger for the discrimination and harassment, plus the fact that the ministry failed to help him find another suitable job for eight years.
In an earlier decision, the board awarded Ranger a lump sum of $244,242 for lost wages for the period from February 2002 (when he went on disability) to May 1, 2010 (when he got a full-time job with the ministry), already reduced by the amount of disability benefits and temporary earnings he received during the eight-year period.
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