Former law school dean sues Thunder Bay's Lakehead University for 'racial discrimination'

The first Indigenous Dean of Law in Canada is suing Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., for "constructive dismissal and racial discrimination" after issues related to what she believes were caused by systemic discrimination and a toxic work environment.

Angelique EagleWoman left her position as Dean of Law in April 2018

Angelique EagleWoman, the former dean of Lakehead University's Faculty of Law, is suing the Thunder Bay, Ont., university for "constructive dismissal and racial discrimination." (Cathy Alex/CBC )

The first Indigenous Dean of Law in Canada is suing Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., for "constructive dismissal and racial discrimination" after issues related to what she believes were caused by systemic discrimination and a toxic work environment.

Angelique EagleWoman served as the head of the University's Bora Laskin Faculty of Law for two years starting in 2016 after the university announced its plans to focus on Indigenous law as part of its core mandate in 2013. EagleWoman announced her departure in April 2018.

"We are arguing that Lakehead University breached her employment contract and effectively constructively dismissed her by not treating her in a way that was consistent with her role and duties and responsibilities as the dean of law," said Paul Champ, a lawyer with Champ & Associates — the Ottawa-based firm that's representing EagleWoman.

"We argue that she was regularly treated in a way that no dean would ever be treated," he continued. "She was denied the fair exercise of authority that a dean would [have]."

"Senior administrators intervened regularly in her efforts to run the law school and, in the context of employment law, that kind of demeaning treatment is incompatible with an ongoing employment relationship."

Champ said they're claiming discrimination based on gender and Indigenous ancestry.

According to a written release on Wednesday from her lawyers, EagleWoman, she said she believes that the university was quick to publicize her appointment with donors and the media but was "less active in actually supporting her in the position."

"I moved my family to Thunder Bay and was looking forward to a long and productive career as dean and professor of law," EagleWoman was quoted as saying in the release. "But I found the reality of Lakehead University did not match its many promises, to me or the local Indigenous communities," adding that she was forced to "carry nearly a full teaching load while still fulfilling [her] duties as dean."

She said she faced opposition and hostility from some within the university not long after she took on the role.

EagleWoman added that her abilities to lead the law school were continually undermined by the school's senior administration as they regularly made decisions about the law school without consulting her.

EagleWoman is suing the university for a total of $2.67 million for loss of income from the remainder of her term as dean and compensation for losing a tenured position as a full professor in the Faculty of Law.

She is also claiming for damages under the Human Rights Code for discrimination as well as moral, aggravated and punitive damages.

The suit was filed in Ontario's Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa; the statement of claim notes that, while Thunder Bay "would be the natural venue" for the lawsuit, EagleWoman's lawyers are pushing for the case to be heard in the nation's capital "given the close relationship and connections between the defendant and the judiciary in the northwest region."

A university spokesperson confirmed that the school has received the statement of claim from EagleWoman's lawyers but that Lakehead will not comment on any litigation or personnel matters.

None of the allegations in the statement of claim has been tested in court.