Tribunal chair rules ex–prison guard of African heritage endured "poisoned work environment" at pretrial centre

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      B.C. employers are required to provide respectful work environments free from discrimination.

      But B.C. Corrections failed to do that at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre, according to a ruling this week by B.C. Human Rights Tribunal chair Diana Juricevic.

      It came in response to a complaint by former prison guard Levan Francis, who self-identifies as being black.

      Moreover, Juricevic ruled that the racism against him continued after he filed a human rights complaint on October 25, 2012.

      "Francis was regarded as a trouble maker for advocating for human rights and equitable practices in the workplace," she wrote. "When Francis escalated the conflict by filing a human rights complaint, his actions were met with surprise by management and hostility by colleagues and supervisors. Francis was called a 'rat' and informed that he has a target on his back."

      The tribunal chair declared that the discrimination and retaliation "lead to the inescapable conclusion that Francis was subject to a poisoned work environment by 2013".

      "Where there is a poisoned work environment, there may be no reasonable option but for the employee to depart," Juricevic wrote, citing previous rulings.

      She has not yet issued an award to Francis.

      The decision goes into considerable detail about a number of incidents in which Francis alleged discrimination.

      One issue that arose was whether or not Francis was slow in opening doors in the facility—an allegation that he rejected. 

      In one instance, another guard called him a "Toby", which Francis interpreted as being called a "slave" or being "someone's bitch".

      Furthermore, Francis claimed that this particular guard, Clayton Smith, used the term "more than twice".

      Smith, however, testified that he was simply using the term "Toby" to refer to a guy who was black and insisted that he only used the term once.

      Juricevic didn't buy that.

      "I find that Clayton Smith said words to the effect 'everyone needs a Toby' which makes sense in reference to serving someone else," she wrote. "Based on my credibility findings, I prefer Francis' recollection which harmonised with undisputed parts of the conversation.

      "Furthermore, that 'Toby' is a generic slave name is consistent with the preponderance of probabilities which a practical and informed person would readily recognize as reasonable in that place and in those conditions," she continued. "It is common knowledge, on an objective standard, that the slur 'Toby' is a reference to a rebellious slave who was eventually caught by his slave master who maimed his foot so that he would be easier to control."

      There was also a dispute over whether assistant deputy warden Kaher Uppal called Francis an "LMB" and whether that was short for "lazy black man". Again, Juricevic accepted that it occurred.

      In another instance, correctional officer James Peakman circulated a photo of an African warlord along with a news article about inmates being killed.

      Then there were Francis's claims that several people used the n-word.

      Juricevic rejected the employer's argument that he "used accusations of racism as a shield when his performance was criticized" and that he "fabricated allegations for his human rights complaint".

      "There is simply no credible evidence that Francis fabricated allegations or imagined them due to mental issues," Juricevic wrote.

      In addition to Francis, four other witnesses testified on his behalf, including three who had worked as guards at North Fraser Pretrial, as well as his common-law wife.

      Sixteen people testified on behalf of the Crown, including some higher-ranking correctional officials.

      Francis began working as a correctional officer in 2000 and was transferred to the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in 2006.