A former area supervisor for a Dartmouth Leon's store accused of racism testified Friday that the employee was not treated differently because she is black.

David McLeod spoke in the company's defence at the human rights board of inquiry hearing for Garnetta Cromwell.

Cromwell worked at the Leon's store in Dartmouth, N.S., from 2004 to 2008. McLeod was area supervisor during that time, but is now retired. Cromwell and McLeod were in a romantic relationship from 2006 until 2007 or 2008.

Cromwell, who is black, claims she suffered racial discrimination at work and quit as a result.

She alleges a Leon’s manager referred to her employee evaluation as a lynching.

McLeod said one manager did recall a joke about lynching made during one of Cromwell's performance evaluations.

But McLeod said Cromwell's racism allegations came as a surprise to him. "I don't know why to this day she didn't pick up the phone or come to me," he said.

Company spokesman John Cooney said her quick departure after the resignation made it difficult to investigate. "Once we became aware of the matter, we investigated it and we took appropriate action," he said Friday.

"I don't believe that the treatment Garnetta Cromwell received was racially based at all."

No signs of racism, former manager says

McLeod said her resignation letter mentioned a racially inappropriate comment, but did not elaborate on the incident.

He said the company tried repeatedly to contact Cromwell to learn more and to resolve the issue. She never responded, he said.

The manager said Leon's then sent out internal questionnaires to managers and staff asking for any information about racially inappropriate comments or behaviour towards Cromwell.

The surveys aimed to uncover racial discrimination taking place in any part of the store's operations, he said.

Most surveys turned up nothing and many respondents expressed support for the management team, McLeod told the hearing. One revealed the name of the manager who knew of the lynching comment. McLeod decided it was not said with a racist intent.

Cromwell disagrees. "[McLeod said] when he first heard the word lynching, it was for a cowboy. I've never heard that. I've always referred to lynching as from my ancestors being lynched back in the slavery days," she said.

She added that given her personal relationship with McLeod, he should not have handled the internal investigation into the incident.

The hearing is expected to conclude by the end of September.