By Albert Lin
A Canadian woman has been awarded monetary damages after an arbitrator found that she was fired for not being Black enough.
Rachel Brothers, who is biracial, worked as a Regional Educator for the Black Educators Association’s office in Kentville, Nova Scotia, in 2006 for 11 months before she was fired that December.
In a ruling released by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, Board of Inquiry Chair Donald Murray determined that Brothers was the victim of workplace discrimination. He ordered that the BEA compensate Brothers $11,000 Canadian, plus 18 months’ worth of interest, for general damages and loss of income.
Murray wrote in his decision that Brothers “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.” Collier had lost out on the job that went to Brothers, but as a longer-tenured employee, she had the ear of the BEA’s leadership.
Brothers testified that Collier told her that her skin color would present a problem with the Black community served by the BEA, because Brothers couldn’t “officially represent them” because she “wasn’t Black enough.” Brothers’ assistant also testified that Collier asked her, “Are you even Black” Murray called Collier’s behavior “appalling.”
In staff meetings, multiple colleagues made mention of Brothers’ skin color and her age. In one instance, another coworker, Crystal States, told Brothers that she “should go work for whitey” because she is light-skinned. These comments were corroborated by Claudette Colley, a former colleague whom Murray termed “the one truly independent witness in this matter.” (States testified that her comment should actually be seen as a compliment.)
Ultimately, Murray concluded that Acting Executive Director Jacqueline Smith-Herriottwho is also biracialwas aware that insensitive comments were being made and did nothing about it. “Her actions,” Murray wrote,”demonstrated that heroffice waspersistently deaf when those concerns involvedMs.Brothersor Ms.Brothers’ assistant.”
The BEA claimed Brothers was fired because of expense-report inconsistencies (for which she reimbursed the association) and because she was considered a probationary employeeboth of which Murray repudiated. His conclusion: “The only remaining articulable reason for Ms. Brothers’ termination on the evidence before me is that Ms. Brothers’ color was causing the BEA a problem. They solved the problem by terminating Ms. Brothers.”
The Black Educators Association said in a statement that it is reviewing Murray’s decision and will consult with legal counsel on next steps: “Where the BEA is a nonprofit organization, any decision to incur legal costs and divert human resources must be weighed against the value of putting these resources to use ensuring the development of an equitable education system, so that AfricanNova Scotian learners are able to achieve their maximum potential, as the BEA has done for the past 45 years.”
According to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Association’s website, convening a board of inquiry is a last-ditch effort to help resolve a human-rights complaint. A board of inquiry “is an independent administrative tribunal separate and apart from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.” The NSHRC’s commissioners decide if a board of inquiry is needed, and the chief judge of the Provincial Court of Nova Scotia selects someone from a 10-person roster to serve as the board’s chair to arbitrate the dispute and, if necessary, to rule on it.