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

Published on August 7, 2014

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.