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Man fired for making race complaint gets $70,000

Posted by on Jul 7, 2013 in HR Issues, Legal, Toronto Star | 0 comments

A company that did not follow up on a racial discrimination complaint and then fired the employee was ordered to pay him 14 months back pay.

By: At Work, Published on Tue Jul 02 2013

A company that did not diligently follow up on an employee’s complaint of racial discrimination and subsequently fired him has been ordered to pay the man $70,000.

Ontario Human Rights Tribunal adjudicator Genviève Debané found there was no racial discrimination by furniture design and installation company Herman Miller Canada. But she ruled that the employee was entitled to 14 months of lost wages anyway.

This was because of the loss of self-respect when he was fired as an act of reprisal for raising possible issues of harassment and threatening to sue the company.

Aldeen Morgan was employed by company between July 2007 and March 2010, as an installation scheduler. In February 2010, he spoke to Beth Johnson, the company’s sales director about a series of incidents he viewed as discrimination.

This included requests to work outside business hours and respond to emails and his pager. He also claimed that Herman Miller’s vice-president of finance and operations Corrado Fermo assigned him menial tasks and treated him “like a janitor, a moving man or a servant” because he is black.

He viewed a winter 2008 email sent about an installation team which said they looked like they were “picked off a street corner” as a discriminatory communication, because all team members were black.

Johnson documented Morgan’s concerns including his overall dissatisfaction with the company in an email to Fermo. No one from the company got back to Morgan about the issues he raised and he was fired on March 30, 2010.

Several months later he filed a claim under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

In her April 18, 2013 ruling, the adjudicator did not rule that the company discriminated against Morgan because of his race. However, she found the decision to fire him was a reprisal for raising issues of harassment and discrimination in his workplace. She awarded him 14 months of lost wages worth almost $56,000, but rejected his request for 15 per cent more for lost benefits.

The adjudicator awarded him $15,000 more for injury to his dignity, feelings and self-respect. In particular, she recognized the impact on him of being fired without a reference from Herman Miller.

The adjudicator also concluded that Herman Miller did not know how to respond to the discrimination issues raised by Morgan. She ordered the company to find an expert to review its human rights policies and train human resources personnel and managers.

Heenan Blaikie employment lawyer Evan Van Dyk said the case shows why employers should take all discrimination complaints seriously. “A failure to investigate and properly document the findings can be expensive,” he said.

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