Nova Scotia

Another former DND employee comes forward with allegations of racism

Carol Pickering, a former black storesperson at the Department of National Defence at CFB Halifax and 12 Wing Shearwater, claims persistent racism she suffered in the workplace over a three-year period forced her to walk away from DND in 2014.

Woman claims discrimination forced her to walk away from 31-year career

Carol Pickering says she left her job at DND in 2014 because of racial discrimination in the workplace. (Peter Sutherland/CBC)

Through tears streaming down her face and her voice breaking, Carol Pickering says the racial discrimination she encountered at CFB Halifax and 12 Wing Shearwater "really almost did me in."

Carol Pickering's career as a storesperson with the Department of National Defence ended much sooner than she expected.

Pickering, who is black, claims persistent racism she suffered in the workplace over a three-year period forced her to walk away from DND in 2014 after a 31-year career.

"The worst thing that ever happened to me (at DND) was receiving a letter from the major threatening my job, threatening my livelihood," Pickering said in an interview. "That was terrible.

"And it was Friday afternoon and it was four scanned pages of how I had to change my conduct and I had to, that I had to ... I had to be better. I had to assimilate is what it felt like to me."

After spending five years working at CFB Halifax, Pickering transferred and worked another eight years at 12 Wing Shearwater. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Without warning in August 2011, Pickering received a memo stating that she had been a dreadful employee from 2009-2011. But none of her performance reviews or written records supported that claim.

Pickering's story is the second one from a black DND civilian employee to hit the news in the past few weeks.

Her former co-worker, Christian Reeves, who was a black apprentice mechanic at CFB Halifax, recently won $25,000 in damages because his bosses racially discriminated against him when they terminated him in 2015. 

Pickering said she was also targeted because she was in the negative for sick leave, even though it had been approved and granted.

Carol Pickering says the racism she encountered as a Department of National Defence employee was traumatic. (Peter Sutherland/CBC)

Pickering filed grievances to challenge the disciplinary action lodged against her. She won some of them.

She claims three people who harassed her were moved out of Shearwater.

"And that was, I guess, what came out of my third-level grievance," she said. "And I said, "That's not enough, that's not enough for what they did to me for all those years.'"

After she left DND, Pickering went to work for the RCMP. She stayed there for three years and then retired.

"By the time I got to the RCMP I think I had changed and I was very scared of authority," she said.

She said when she left DND, none of her senior non-commissioned officers came to her workplace going-away party.

"It said a lot," she said. "I was ready for it. I knew what was going to happen but it shocked the people I worked with."

Carol Pickering worked as a storesperson at CFB Halifax and 12 Wing Shearwater. (Submitted by Carol Pickering)

Pickering started her civilian career with DND in Ontario when she was 19.

Mostly male-dominated section

In 2003, she started working at the dockyard at CFB Halifax and then moved over to the male-dominated Transport Electric and Mechanical Engineering section. She worked five years on the Halifax side and then spent another eight years at 12 Wing Shearwater.

"You had to get used to a lot of swearing men.… I was used to that, but I wasn't used to the racism and the remarks and things like that," Pickering said.

When she worked in transport, there were about five black employees.

One black female colleague told Pickering that when she returned from vacation without the braids she had been wearing the week before, one of her bosses — a military member — came up to her and said, "Oh, the braids are out of your hair, you must be ready to work now.'"

A black male co-worker told Pickering that he had heard one of the men they worked with using the N-word.

"I said, 'Well, it's up to you to report it,'" Pickering said. "Everyone was afraid of being harassed and we knew they had control.

"It is racism, it is simply racism," she said.

Carol Pickering is a former Department of National Defence employee. (Peter Sutherland/CBC)

Of the black people who worked in the section when Pickering was there, two left and retired, one retired earlier this year and one remains, she said.

No promotion in 30 years

Pickering filed a grievance in 2010. She asked for her work description and a document that comes with it that tells an employee where they stand in terms of potential promotion.

"I was wondering because I wanted to move up," she said, adding that in the 31 years she'd been with DND she had not moved up one level.

After going through the proper channels and not getting her work description, Pickering contacted the ombudsman and he got it for her about three years later.

As a result, she said she faced retaliation from her bosses.

Carol Pickering, a former storesperson with DND at CFB Halifax and 12 Wing Shearwater, claims persistent racial discriminaton from her bosses on the job, forced her to walk away from her 31-year career. (Peter Sutherland/CBC)

At one point after that, she got into a long battle with a major and took her grievance to a higher level.

That's when she says her immediate boss, a warrant officer, began threatening and harassing her.

"There was one incident that I was at my desk and he came in and he actually slammed a paper on my desk and it was a reprimand and it was a letter," she recalled.

"And he's like, 'This is where you're at now and this is your reprimand."

As a result, she filed a harassment complaint against him. He was moved from Shearwater to Halifax.

A salesperson who witnessed the incident got up and told Pickering he was going to excuse himself and walked away.  At Pickering's request, he later wrote a letter stating what he saw that day.

After that, she said she was accosted by another boss, a warrant officer.

Before that, Pickering said she was called into a private meeting with her immediate supervisor and another warrant officer. She was presented with a long memo about absenteeism from the workplace, telling her "how they need to curb my conduct."

She said she was also told that her work wasn't going well, even though there was nothing to back that claim. Before the meeting, she said she was told that she did not need to bring a union representative with her.

Carol Pickering was one of about five black civilian employees who worked in the Transport Electric and Mechanical Engineering (TEME) section at CFB Halifax and 12 Wing Shearwater. She claims she faced persistent racism on the job. (Submitted by Carol Pickering)

Things came to a head, Pickering said, after she came back from a paid leave of absence to take care of her mother who was dying of cancer at home.

"As soon as I came back, that's when the first reprimand happened," she recalled.

The first reprimand alleged Pickering had taken too much time off work. A second reprimand alleged misconduct in the workplace.

"There was like three or four of them back to back.… It would be like every Friday they would give me a reprimand of some sort," Pickering said.

The Defence Visible Minorities Advisory Group in Halifax, mandated to advise DND on issues affecting visible minorities, supported Pickering through her ordeal.

However, a spokesperson for that group said she did not have permission from DND to speak to the media.

Discrimination not tolerated

DND itself said it cannot comment on specific cases for privacy reasons.

"However, we do treat such matters seriously and with sensitivity," a statement from DND's media relations office said. 

"Discrimination of any kind is not tolerated within the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)."

The statement went on to say that all civilian defence team members are mandated by DND to attend a class about harassment prevention and bystander Intervention.

"With respect to the specific cases in question, while we cannot provide specifics in response to the recent report, the leadership team at CFB Halifax has taken proactive steps to further foster a respectful and inclusive work environment. Three mandatory ethics and professional workplace briefings are held annually within the Base Logistics branch; all members must attend one briefing per year on a continual basis."

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About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca