Winnipeg Folk Festival settles with former employee who launched human rights complaint

The Winnipeg Folk Festival has settled with a former employee who filed a human rights complaint after she survived cancer but lost her job in the process.

Margaret Koshinsky said she's disappointed full hearing won't take place

Margaret Koshinsky says she's disappointed that her human rights complaint against Winnipeg Folk Festival won't see a full hearing, but is glad to have this chapter of her life behind her. (John Einarson/CBC)

The Winnipeg Folk Festival has reached a settlement with a former employee who filed a human rights complaint after she survived cancer but lost her job in the process.

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission's independent adjudicator found last week that the festival's offer of $130,000 in financial compensation was reasonable, under section 37.1 of Manitoba's human rights code. 

That section of the code is meant to help avoid an expensive hearing if a respondent has made an offer that is more or less what an adjudicator would have awarded if the complaint were proven to be true. 

But it also means the respondent, in this case the Winnipeg Folk Festival, essentially admits that the complaint is true. 

'Take it or leave it' scenario 

Reached Thursday, Koshinsky said she felt she was given a "take it or leave it" scenario. She had initially rejected her former employer's settlement offer, saying that she wanted to have a full hearing so that they could be held accountable. 

"At the end of the day, the reason I wanted a hearing is that it's just not believable that an organization with so much goodwill in this community, that has board members involved in labour and human rights, could violate a human right," she said. 

"I was always a person that led with gratitude and now even more so, and I tried so hard not to be bitter and angry … but it's just really hard to believe that someone could be treated that way."

Koshinsky was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in 2013 while she was working as the festival's marketing and communications manager. This forced her to take a medical leave of absence to undergo treatment, during which time she received disability benefits. 

In her human rights complaint, she alleged that in March 2016, her employer told her they couldn't accommodate her return to work plan, and that her employment would be terminated with her disability benefits ran out. 

When she made her case to the commission's independent adjudicator last month, she said she was dismissed because her boss didn't think she could do the job at the same level as she did before her diagnosis. 

Margaret Koshinsky took her case against the Winnipeg Folk Fest to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. She rejected a settlement from her former employer, after she lost her job while recovering from breast cancer. CBC host Ismaila Alfa spoke to her. 8:18

She also accused her former boss of wanting nothing to do with a cancer survivor's potential need for accommodation.

To this day, Koshinsky said she's never been able to secure the same level of employment in the communications field. After taking some time to travel, she said she's now working for a film production company. 

Festival 'regretful' 

In a emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg Folk Festival denied that the festival participated in any type of discrimination, and said the organisation has "always been regretful" of the impact this situation has had on Koshinsky.

A copy of adjudicator Tracey Epp's decision shows the $130,000 represents 18 months of lost wages, pension and benefits, as well as a $20,000 lump sum payment for general damages. 

In addition to financial compensation, the Winnipeg Folk Festival also offered to have its employees who were responsible for Koshinsky's return to work go through a seminar regarding human rights, as well as offering a letter of reference and passes to the festival as a good faith gesture. It also said it will review its policies relating to accommodation in the workplace.