Garnetta Oakley, Garnetta Cromwell

A Nova Scotia Human Rights Board of Inquiry has found that Garnetta Oakley was harassed because of her race when she worked at Leon's in Dartmouth. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Board of Inquiry has found a female sales associate was subjected to several instances of racial harassment while she was employed at a Leon's Furniture store in Dartmouth.

In a ruling issued this week, the board ordered Leon's to pay Garnetta Oakley — formerly Garnetta Cromwell — $8,000 in damages plus 18 months worth of earnings, less the income she earned after leaving.

It amounts to approximately $70,000 altogether. The company has been ordered to pay Oakley within 30 days.

Oakley, who is black, said she was pleased the board ruled in her favour and concluded she had been discriminated against by her supervisor.

"The treatment I experienced was dehumanizing and caused me great personal and professional loss," Oakley said.

"I feel validated and proud of the fact that I spoke up about what I felt was racial discrimination, a problem that remains far too common in workplaces and communities in Nova Scotia."

The board found that Oakley experienced 10 incidents of racial harassment while working as a sales associate at the big-box store from 2004 to 2008, when she resigned. She filed a formal complaint against Leon's in 2009 and a hearing was held last year.

In one incident, Oakley testified that her employee evaluation was referred to by a manager as a "lynching." That was what led to her filing the human rights complaint.

The human rights board condemned the manager's comments, calling it "unacceptable for a manager to threaten physical violence as a joke in a workplace."

'Getting back my integrity'

Oakley said she finally feels vindicated.

"Getting back my integrity, my credibility, the fact that somebody else had seen it the way that I saw it," she said.

"There was not only just racial comments, racial jokes, there was discipline, they were treating me differently."

Lisa Teryl, the legal council at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, said even if nothing is meant by a person's comment it is the reasonable impact of it that makes it discriminatory.

"If an African Nova Scotian person has had many repeated experiences of disrespect with certain terminology and they hear it again, that is really harmful," said Teryl.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Board of Inquiry found Oakley was not only subjected to racist comments, but to "excessive" discipline from managers due to her race.

The board has also requested an order for Leon's to work with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to "achieve employment equity for African Nova Scotia employees at Leon's Nova Scotia stores" and that all staff and managers be trained in human rights competency.

It also asked that Leon's help Dartmouth store employees deal with any harm from the media attention and that the costs of these be paid by Leon's.

The situation at Leon's is not the only discrimination Oakley has faced. In October, her car was defaced when someone spray painted a derogatory word on it.

No one from Leon's Furniture was available for comment.

With files from The Canadian Press