Nova Scotia

Former Halifax transit worker receives record $593K award in harassment case

A human rights board has ordered the City of Halifax to pay almost $600,000 in damages after a former bus mechanic suffered harassment.

Man said he suffered from trauma due to a hostile workplace

The City of Halifax has been ordered to pay nearly $600,000 in damages to a former bus mechanic who suffered harassment at work. (CBC)

A Nova Scotia human rights board of inquiry has handed down an award of nearly $600,000 to a former Metro Transit bus garage worker after finding he was the victim of racial harassment and discrimination by management and co-workers.

It's the largest amount ever awarded by the commission.

The inquiry heard that Y.Z., a mechanic, was targeted with verbal racial slurs, graffiti in the washroom, vandalism of tools and assault between 2002 and 2007. A bus was used to terrorize him by brushing past him.

Y.Z., who is white, is married to a black woman. He told the inquiry his marriage made him the focus of racial taunting.

A psychologist told the inquiry that Y.Z. has been diagnosed as having somatic symptom disorder, major depressive disorder and PTSD.

'Bad place physically and psychologically'

The psychologist, Myles Genest, said there are "no grounds to suggest [Y.Z.] would be experiencing his current disabling conditions were it not for his experience of negative work environment and threat to his safety in the workplace."

[Y.Z.'s] in "such a bad place physically and psychologically that it almost has a life of its own now," the psychologist told the inquiry. 

In 2007, the former Metro Transit worker attempted suicide and since then has been "largely housebound" due to his fear of encountering employees from the bus garage.

An independent Nova Scotia human rights board of inquiry looked into the complaints of Y.Z. (Robert Short/CBC News)

The lawyer for Y.Z., Bruce Evans, told the inquiry that his client continues to suffer the psychological impact of discrimination to this day. 

His wife regards him as "broken" and his son says he "died" 12 years ago when he tried to take his own life. Y.Z.'s wife suffered a nervous breakdown and was unable to work for two years.

Lawyer sought higher award

The $593,507 award provides $105,650 in general damages to Y.Z. and $433,077 for past and future lost income. There's also an award of $21,675 for future care and $33,015 for pain and suffering for Y.Z.'s wife.

Evans was claiming $950,000 in compensation for his client for past and future loss of income. But the award was cut in half, in part because Y.Z. did not accept a transfer to another facility, according to the decision. Y.Z. had told the inquiry "the people who were causing the problems were the ones who should be forced to leave and not him."

Judy Haiven is a retired professor of management, and one of the founders of Equity Watch, a group that fights workplace discrimination. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

"It is my hope that my monetary award will send a clear message to HRM and its supervisors of what their legal obligations are under the Human Rights Act to investigate and address potential violations under the Act," wrote Lynn Connors, board of inquiry chair.

The case unearthed new details about another case of racism and threats suffered by Randy Symonds, who was Y.Z.'s co-worker. He died in a car accident in 2007. 

Connors also drew attention to recent racial tension at the bus garage. According to a 2015 workplace survey, 61 per cent of employees at the Ilsley Avenue facility reported dissatisfaction on being treated with respect and consideration, and "bullying, racism, [and] intimidation" were examples of disrespect they experienced. 

"What troubles me the most is the finding of the Workplace Assessment completed in 2015. It still does not show a great picture of what that workplace is like," said the ruling.

The Human Rights Commission confirmed this is the highest award to date.

Evans said there was no comment from him or his client at this time.

Another apology

The Halifax Regional Municipality's chief administrative officer repeated his apology for the racism at the bus garage.

In a statement Wednesday, Jacques Dubé, said the municipality accepts the decision regarding damages. The municipality will pay the award and will not appeal the decision, according to a city spokesperson.

"We remain unwavering in our commitment to continually do better," said Dubé. "As chief administrative officer, I am committed to advocating for a harassment-free workplace."

'A catastrophic failure'

Equity Watch, a group dedicated to fighting workplace discrimination, has been monitoring this case. Judy Haiven, a co-founder of the group and a retired management professor, said the racial harassment Y.Z., Symonds, and an Indigenous man experienced at the bus depot "is a catastrophic failure of management."

Haiven said the record award to Y.Z. is appropriate because he lost his career due to the "reign of terror that happened in the transit yards."

She said the municipality's apology and pledge to improve the workplace culture is "too little, too late."

The Amalgamated Transit Union has not responded to a request for comment.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7, 7:30 in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.