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B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to hear workplace 'N-word' complaint

A construction company employee says he constantly heard the N-word in his workplace and that he felt unsafe as a result.
B.C.'s Human Rights Tribunal will hear the complaint of a Black man who says he was repeatedly on the receiving end of racial slurs at work.

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has rejected an application to dismiss a complaint from a Black man who believes he was constructively dismissed from his construction job.

“I believe that the real reason for my termination of employment was that I no longer tolerated the use of the N‐word by Ruskin’s employees and that l eventually spoke up against the use of the N‐word,” said Francis Sarba, who filed a human rights complaint related to his employment at Ruskin Construction Inc.

Sarba alleges his manager and the company subjected him to three instances of racial harassment at work; the alleged treatment made him feel unsafe and led to the termination of his employment, according to court documents.

He asserts the conduct of Ruskin, and employees Steve Chauvin, Dan Homeniuk and Reza Moham is discrimination based on race and colour in violation of the provincial Human Rights Code.

The respondents have denied discriminating and applied to have the complaint dismissed.

In a Feb. 15 decision rejecting that application, tribunal member Amber Prince said there was too much conflicting evidence before her to conclude that the complaint had no reasonable prospect of success.

The decision said Sarba was employed with Ruskin, a specialized construction contractor, from July to November 2019. He was a bridgeman scaffolder working at a site near Prince Rupert.

In his complaint, Sarba said the first instance of racial harassment happened when foreman Dale Ross allegedly made “numerous derogatory comments about visible minorities in Canada, including Black Canadians, and First Nations individuals.”

He said Ross repeatedly used the N‐word to him and in front of co‐workers. Sarba said the alleged conduct impacted his relationship with other co‐workers and his sense of safety at work.

Sarba said an employee of First Nations descent, JR, made a formal complaint about Ross’ conduct, including his use of the N‐word in relation to Sarba.

Prince’s decision said Sarba said that Ruskin investigated and determined Ross was harassing the employees he was supervising based on their ethnicity and race.

While Sarba said Ross was fired, the company said an investigation was done where Ross denied the allegations. The company said he was moved away from those employees.

In the second alleged incident, Sarba said supervisor Moham asked him to attend a meeting. Sarba asked his union steward, Trevor Dorey, to attend but Moham had said there was no need as it was just a “friendly conversation.”

In the meeting, Sarba alleges Moham said words to the effect of: “I'm not supposed to say this but I have to. Your talking about being called a [N‐word] personally, saying [N‐word] is the exact same as saying someone is a fascist.”

According to Sarba, Moham went on to say that he hadn’t wanted to fire Ross, and that the complaints about Ross had been blown out of proportion.

Moham denied he used the N‐word in the meeting with Sarba and Dorey. He said he asked Sarba if he was sure that Ross had used the N‐word because “accusing somebody for use of that word was like accusing him/her to racism.”

A day after that meeting, Sarba met with project manager Dan Homeniuk and told him about Moham's use of alleged racial slurs.

Prince's decision says Sarba asserted Homeniuk did not open an investigation, an assertion Homeniuk disputes.

The tribunal member said Homeniuk obtained witness statements, including one from Moham, who denied using the N‐word.

“It is unclear to me why Ruskin did not seek a witness statement from Trevor Dorey, since it appears that Mr. Dorey was a witness to what occurred in the meeting between Mr. Sarba and Mr. Moham,” Prince said.

On Oct. 2, 2019, Sarba said he was socializing with a co‐worker at the work camp when co‐worker Chauvin arrived.

Sarba asserts Chauvin said that he was the reason Sarba had been promoted to a foreman position, and that he was not sufficiently appreciative of Chauvin’s help.

A physical altercation began and Sarba alleges Chauvin grabbed his hair, pulled out some of dreadlocks, and called him the N‐word.

Both were suspended.

The respondents said that nowhere in a statement or discipline meeting did Sarba mention Chauvin using a racial slur.

Homeniuk said Sarba said he was not returning after the suspension while Sarba claims he was terminated.

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