Kings County woman fired from job because of her skin tone: Human Rights Commission

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A woman who worked with the Black Educators’ Association in Kentville was fired because of her skin colour, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission found in a decision released recently.

Rachel Brothers was employed for the better part of 2006 as a regional educator. The Black Educators’ Association assists children and adult learners from the black community to ensure they benefit fully from the Nova Scotia education system. Her job involved overseeing the work in the Valley area.

In the fall of 2006, however, the working environment and programming delivery became unstable in the Valley region. In December 2006, the Kings County native was asked to attend a meeting in Halifax without being told the true purpose of the session, where she was confronted with financial concerns involving a gala that had been held earlier in the fall that she had helped organize. Brothers’ financial bookkeeping was unorganized, leading the BEA to believe there was some kind of breach of trust, the report states Although she tried to address the concerns and offered to reimburse the BEA a “substantial amount of money,” Brothers was served with a letter of termination in her office three days later for financial misconduct. The funds were deducted from Brothers’ final pay.

“The BEA did have legitimate concerns about Ms. Brothers’ skills in terms of financial responsibility. However, Ms. Brothers was a new employee. She was assigned a significant task with limited guidance, and limited support, form the head office of the organization,” wrote Donald Murray, the chairman of the board of inquiry, in his 42-page report issued July 29.

Murray says Brothers testified on her own behalf and self-identified as bi-racial.

“Why was Ms. Brothers dealt with so abruptly and so sharply? I have concluded, based on the evidence put before me during this inquiry, that Ms. Brothers was terminated because she had been successfully undermined in her employment by one of her subordinates: Catherine Collier. It is clear to me that Ms. Brothers was undermined in part because she was younger than, and not as black as, Ms. Collier thought that Ms. Brothers should be.”

Brothers, Murray wrote, testified that Collier made “colourist comments” directed at her.

“The comments relating to Ms. Brothers’ skin colour proposed that her skin colour was a barrier with the black people in the community. Ms. Brothers was, it was said, too light skinned to “officially represent them” because she “wasn’t black enough”,” the report said.

Brothers testified that she asked her superior how to deal with the situation and was told to deal with them at the lowest level, which Murray believes was some kind of verbal caution.

There were also apparently ageist and colourist comments made at an October meeting of regional educators where Brothers was questioned about her skin colour.

The conflict between the duo grew to include Brothers’ administrative assistant, who made a complaint to Brothers’ about questions Collier directed towards the assistant whether she was black. The administrative believed the questions were discriminatory and made a formal written complaint to Brothers on Nov. 6, 2009. Brothers attempted to resolve the problem over the next month, but Collier “resisted and defied Ms. Brothers’ efforts to resolve that problem,” the report states. Although Brothers contacted head office for help on resolving the situation, she never received any response. Her employment was terminated Dec. 18, 2006.

“Accounting ineptitude in the absence of clear instruction and supervision does not amount to purposeful financial misconduct,” Murray states in his decision.

He also stated that based on the evidence he heard – including testimony from Brothers’ superiors at BEA – left him to conclude that the decisions made by the organization about Brothers’ employment “were made in part because of Ms. Brothers’ colour.”

Her skin colour, he said, “was causing the BEA a problem in the Valley region. They solved that problem by terminating Ms. Brothers.”

That, Murray said, is a violation of the Human Rights Act. Although he said there was nothing he could do, eight years later, to get the BEA to act differently towards Brothers, he awarded her $11,000 for general damages and lost income.

Brothers could not be reached immediately for comment on the decision. 

Organizations: BEA, Human Rights Commission, Association in Kentville

Geographic location: Kings, Nova Scotia, Halifax

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  • Persimon Dickson
    August 10, 2014 - 09:14

    I am a mother of three bi racial children, my oldest is almost sixteen and has been a part of the black education program since grade primary. I am appauled that this is happening to my family as my children apparently are not physically "black" enough to be a part of this program. If Rachel is not black enough to run such a program then you may want to send home letters to all of the family's with light skined black children or bi racial children and let the family's know that their children no longer qualify to take part. I often get comments that my children do not "look black" and I thought black was a culture not a skin colour. This saddens me why would I allow my children to take part in a program that frowns on my inocent children. I do not need my children feeling that because they do not have two black parents that they will never be educated enough to apply for rolls such as this in the future. Shame on you. Rachel thank you for not taking this sitting down. My family applauds you.

  • Persimon Dickson
    August 10, 2014 - 09:14

    I am a mother of three bi racial children, my oldest is almost sixteen and has been a part of the black education program since grade primary. I am appauled that this is happening to my family as my children apparently are not physically "black" enough to be a part of this program. If Rachel is not black enough to run such a program then you may want to send home letters to all of the family's with light skined black children or bi racial children and let the family's know that their children no longer qualify to take part. I often get comments that my children do not "look black" and I thought black was a culture not a skin colour. This saddens me why would I allow my children to take part in a program that frowns on my inocent children. I do not need my children feeling that because they do not have two black parents that they will never be educated enough to apply for rolls such as this in the future. Shame on you. Rachel thank you for not taking this sitting down. My family applauds you.

  • Biraciallady
    August 08, 2014 - 16:25

    "There would be no question of whether the boss would have been fired." The boss has already been fired. There is new directors of the BEA since this incident...or multiple incidents. And trust me, the black community recognizes this as racism, discrimination and unacceptable. In times when most African Nova Scotian people are in fact bi-racial, this is a concern for many people. Biracial people experience racism and discrimination from two groups, European and African....for not being "White" enough, or "Black" enough. It's not on CNN, because no one cares. Not because of some powerful black agenda keeping in off of the news. That's laughable. The people who make the decisions about what is on the news, are white people. And news stories are usually focused around white people. This time, it's centered around varying shades of blackness. So, much like missing black and aboriginal women, the achievement gap that children of minority groups face here in Nova Scotia....there will be no media attention to the actual issues, because, well, it doesn't concern the majority.

  • Doug.P
    August 08, 2014 - 13:11

    If this was a white male who fired a black female it would be on CNN, NBS, CBS, CBC and all over the internet for at least a week straight. There would be no question of whether the boss would have been fired. It's funny how there is two different standards where are the cries of injustice and media backlash?

  • Doug.P
    August 08, 2014 - 13:04

    It's only racism and sexism when white males do it. It's called something else when card carrying "minorities" do it everyone else and even to one another. Politically correct racism is almost unapproachable and untouchable in this day and age. That's because certain recognized minorities have special laws that give them privilege to do it to non minorities almost at will. It's an absurd double standard. Workplace quotas and equality laws are nothing more than sexism and racism legalized for selected privileged groups to lord over others. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss".

  • Barbara Kennedy
    August 07, 2014 - 20:59

    How many back people work at the local new paper in kentville I know the answer None

    • jack ross
      August 08, 2014 - 10:51

      So Ms.Kennedy,you're advocating we should hire on the basis of skin color?From this story I would suggest that the Black Educators assoc and the multitude of other govt funded black NS asscs go to a paint shop and look up the exact shade of black that's acceptableRacism comes from many types of peoples.........as you've shown.

  • BAK
    August 07, 2014 - 20:39

    This is pretty sad, to make light of a young woman who has an upstanding reputation, and not to focus on the real issue of discrimination of not being black enough, shame on you

  • Patsy wellwood
    August 07, 2014 - 18:11

    I would say hats off to Ms Brothers, although I don't think she was awarded enough, for all the crap she went through. I would have like to read at the end of this story, that Catherine Collier, would have been fired from her job, she has no right to hold the position she holds, she has no respect for anyone, including herself, but that does not matter, because since her name has been made public, she will get no respect. As far as I am concern she should be fired in front of her piers , laughed at and escorted out the door. People are trying to put racism in the past, but thanks to Catherine Collier it will never rest

  • Patsy wellwood
    August 07, 2014 - 18:08

    I would say hats off to Ms Brothers, although I don't think she was awarded enough, for all the crap she went through. I would have like to read at the end of this story, that Catherine Collier, would have been fired from her job, she has no right to hold the position she holds, she has no respect for anyone, including herself, but that does not matter, because since her name has been made public, she will get no respect. As far as I am concern she should be fired in front of her piers , laughed at and escorted out the door. People are trying to put racism in the past, but thanks to Catherine Collier it will never rest

  • Patsy wellwood
    August 07, 2014 - 18:05

    I would say hats off to Ms Brothers, although I don't think she was awarded enough, for all the crap she went through. I would have like to read at the end of this story, that Catherine Collier, would have been fired from her job, she has no right to hold the position she holds, she has no respect for anyone, including herself, but that does not matter, because since her name has been made public, she will get no respect. As far as I am concern she should be fired in front of her piers , laughed at and escorted out the door. People are trying to put racism in the past, but thanks to Catherine Collier it will never rest