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City of Richmond accused of sexual discrimination, paying female worker less than men

A long-term female employee claims a pattern over years and has filed a human rights complaint
Richmond City Hall
The City of Richmond tried to block the human rights tribunal from proceeding

A City of Richmond employee has accused management of paying her less than men, sexual harassment and mocking her mental health.

The woman, a long-term unionized employee who is not being named, is taking city to a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

The city claims it investigated the woman’s claims in full and tried to block her case proceeding.

However, in a recent published decision, the tribunal has struck down the attempt and the matter will proceed.

According to the decision, the employee also claimed she was either not supported in her attempts to raise the issue, or even “actively discouraged or penalized” in some instances.

The city objected to the employee’s complaint, claiming WorkSafeBC already dealt with it “appropriately,” most of the complaints were filed late and the employee’s complaint had no “reasonable prospect” of succeeding.

The employee’s allegations span three years from 2015 to 2018 and include eight instances of discrimination. These include being put in lower-paying positions where her male co-workers made at least $3 more than her per hour, hearing sexist comments such as “a guy would have done that work faster,” and having a superior attempt to touch her on the buttocks.

She also claimed a manager and a union representative had told her to “not f*** this up” when she complained about the pay discrepancy, and a co-worker pinned her against a truck and screamed at her after she told her manager the co-worker called someone “useless.”

Most recently, in late 2018, the woman had helped city workers with a traumatically injured man who later died and she was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

According to the employee, a city manager in human resources called her while she was taking time off to tell her she should be back at work instead of “at home eating bonbons and watching re-runs of I Love Lucy.”

“The common thread running through all of (the employee’s) allegations is a poisoned work environment connected to her gender as a woman,” reads the tribunal decision.

The City of Richmond, on the other hand, said it had hired an independent investigator to look into the allegations in 2019, who found discrepancies in the employee’s allegations and decided her claims were unfounded or had overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The investigator also preferred the human resources manager’s side of the story, who claimed the employee had misunderstood the call and the employee was the one who made the disparaging comment about eating bonbons.

The employee had tried to apply for compensation through WorkSafeBC in January 2019, claiming she developed a mental disorder related to workplace bullying and harassment, but it was rejected because her claims were made after the one-year time limit. WorkSafeBC also said the human resources manager’s comment did not amount to “threatening or abusive” conduct.

Employee has no prospect of winning: City of Richmond

In a decision issued last week, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal concluded the employee’s complaint has not been dealt with appropriately despite having been rejected by WorkSafeBC, since the tribunal assesses time limits in a different manner.

WorkSafeBC also only dealt with one out of the employee’s eight allegations and did not decide whether it was discriminatory.

“The issue of whether the (City of Richmond) discriminated against (the employee) based on sex and mental disability, in relation to her eight allegations, has not been decided in another proceeding,” reads the decision.

The tribunal also concluded the employee’s complaints were timely, her allegations had a common theme of sexual discrimination and the allegations were “sufficiently repetitive and frequent in nature.”

Although the City of Richmond claimed the employee had no “reasonable prospect” of succeeding, the tribunal thinks a hearing is necessary to resolve the conflicting versions of events given by both sides.

It’s also inefficient, wrote the tribunal, to pick apart the employee’s allegations and dismiss some of them when she’s alleging a “pattern of discrimination” and individual events need to be considered together in context.

The employee will be allowed to proceed with her complaint.

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