The University of New Brunswick has been ordered to reinstate its women's varsity hockey team by the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board.
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In a ruling released on Wednesday, the board said it found that Sylvia Bryson, who had laid a complaint along with the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, had established a case of discrimination against UNB "as a service-provider of Varsity Atheletics."
Sylvia Bryson said the decision has been many years in coming.
"It's been eight years since they cut the team and its been seven years since we filed, so a long time coming, and then realizing, all right, this is what we're waiting for, it's just every emotion at once," Bryson said.
Bryson has been fighting to have the women's hockey team reinstated as a varsity squad since filing her complaint in 2009.
'This is such an incredible milestone.' - Sylvia Bryson
That came a year after the team was stripped of its funding and downgraded to a competitive sports club.
Bryson, who played for the team, alleged that the decision to relegate the women's team constituted discrimination on the basis of sex.
She said Wednesday's ruling provided validation.
"This is such an incredible milestone. It's really what we've been after ... I want to see the team reinstated and playing again," said Bryson.
She said the board has ordered the university to take immediate action to reinstate the women's varsity hockey program.
"They should be prepared to be competing in the AUS in the 2017-2018 season and they've also been ordered ... to revisit their gender equity policy," said Bryson.
The report, signed by Robert Breen, chairperson of the board, said UNB's contention the women's varsity hockey program was cut for budget reasons, with the athletics department citing it as "our most expensive sport," one with virtually "no return on investment" was not supported.
The report cited "inconsistencies" in "UNB's budget presentations in the record of evidence."
The board also found that UNB's assumption that it could cut the team "as long as there were proportionate opportunities for women to try out for another varsity team," part of the university's Gender Equity Policy, is an example of "permissive stereotyping."
The university has a year to rewrite the policy "to ensure its provisions protect substantive gender equity."
In addition, the board ordered what it called a compensatory payment, from UNB to Bryson, of $5,000 for "consequent expenditure and consequent injury to dignity and self-respect."
John Richard, director of athletics at UNB, said the university respects the decision, "but our legal team is kind of digesting it for us" right now.
In a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, the university said it "continues to evaluate its options while co-operating fully with the process."