Former transit worker receives record award in case of racial discrimination

A Nova Scotia human rights board of inquiry has handed down an award of nearly $600,000 to a former Metro Transit bus garage worker after finding he was the victim of racial harassment and discrimination by management and co-workers.

It’s the largest amount ever awarded by the commission.

The inquiry heard that Y.Z., a mechanic, was targeted with verbal racial slurs, graffiti in the washroom, vandalism of tools and assault between 2002 and 2007. A bus was used to terrorize him by brushing past him.

Y.Z., who is white, is married to a black woman. He told the inquiry his marriage made him the focus of racial taunting.

A psychologist told the inquiry that Y.Z. has been diagnosed as having somatic symptom disorder, major depressive disorder and PTSD.

‘Bad place physically and psychologically’

The psychologist, Myles Genest, said there are “no grounds to suggest [Y.Z.] would be experiencing his current disabling conditions were it not for his experience of negative work environment and threat to his safety in the workplace.”

[Y.Z.’s] in “such a bad place physically and psychologically that it almost has a life of its own now,” the psychologist told the inquiry. 

In 2007, the former Metro Transit worker attempted suicide and since then has been “largely house-bound” due to his fear of encountering employees from the bus garage.

The lawyer for Y.Z., Bruce Evans, told the inquiry that his client continues to suffer the psychological impact of discrimination to this day. 

His wife regards him as “broken” and his son says he “died” 12 years ago when he tried to take his own life. Y.Z.’s wife suffered a nervous breakdown and was unable to work for two years.

Lawyer sought higher award

The award provides $105,000 in general damages to Y.Z., $54,000 to his wife for pain and suffering and future care and $433,000 for past and future lost income.

Evans was claiming $950,000 in compensation for his client. But the past and future loss of income award was halved because Y.Z. did not accept a transfer to another facility, said the finding.

“It is my hope that my monetary award will send a clear message to HRM and its supervisors of what their legal obligations are under the Human Rights Act to investigate and address potential violations under the Act,” wrote Lynn Connors, board of inquiry chair.

The case unearthed new details about another case of racism and threats suffered by Randy Symonds, who was Y.Z.’s co-worker.

Connors also drew attention to the recent racial tension at the bus garage. According to a 2015 workplace survey, 61 per cent of employees at the Ilsley Avenue facility reported dissatisfaction on being treated with respect and consideration, “bullying, racism, [and] intimidation” were examples of disrespect they experienced. 

“What troubles me the most is the finding of the Workplace Assessment completed in 2015. It still does not show a great picture of what that workplace is like,” said the ruling.

The Human Rights Commission confirmed this is the highest award to date.

Evans said there was no comment from him or his client at this time.

Previous apology

The Halifax Regional Municipality chief administrative officer has previously apologized for the racism at the bus garage.

In a statement Wednesday, Jacques Dubé, said the municipality accepts the decision regarding damages. The municipality will pay the award and will not appeal the decision, according to a city spokesperson.

“We remain unwavering in our commitment to continually do better,” said Dubé. “As chief administrative officer, I am committed to advocating for a harassment-free workplace.”

CBC has reached out to the Amalgamated Transit Union for comment.

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