Correctional officer settles discrimination complaint after 23 years

Employer failed to implement orders to address discrimination in original 1998 tribunal decision
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 08/17/2011

An Ontario correctional officer’s 23-year battle against racial discrimination at work has ended with a settlement.

Michael McKinnon was a correctional officer at the Toronto East Detention Centre, where he claimed to have suffered discrimination based on his Aboriginal background. Over several years at the detention centre, McKinnon claimed he was ostracized by co-workers and wasn’t taken seriously by management, contributing to a poisoned work environment. When he filed a human rights complaint in 1988, things got worse and he faced reprisals.

Ten years after his original complaint, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal found in favour of McKinnon and ordered the Ministry of Correctional Services to take measures to address discrimination in the workplace. However, McKinnon complained the ministry failed to follow the orders and he continued to face reprisals.

In a 2002 decision, the tribunal found there was a “systemic breakdown” characterized by indifference, ineptitude and bad faith of management at all levels. The Tribunal issued ministry-wide orders to address the racially poisoned environment. The ministry's alleged failure to implement those orders was the subject of ongoing hearings before the tribunal, and a further decision was anticipated for the fall of 2011.

However, before the tribunal could come to a decision on the ministry’s tardiness in implementing anti-racism measures, McKinnon reached a settlement with the ministry.

As a result of the settlement, legal proceedings at the tribunal and before Divisional Court were halted. Key terms of the settlement remain confidential, but one outcome is that the ministry and Ontario Human Rights Commission have established a "Project Charter" to address issues of racism in the ministry. This is part of a new "Transformational Strategy" for the ministry and is similar to a project implemented by the Toronto Police Services Board.

The out-of-court settlement follows a decision earlier this year in which the tribunal found Deputy Minister Jay Hope breached orders of the tribunal and deliberately withheld information and documents that were vital to the case. For the first time in its history, the tribunal requested that the Divisional Court consider whether the deputy minister was in contempt of its orders.

“Mr. McKinnon suffered years of racial discrimination in his workplace and was then subjected to 20 years of delay and obstruction by the ministry,” said OPSEU president Warren Thomas in a statement. “We respect Mr. McKinnon's decision to settle. This case shows that the top levels of the ministry were complicit in condoning and covering up illegal conduct for many years."

Independent of this complaint or the settlement, the ministry agreed in May 2011 to establish a diversity subcommittee with OPSEU as a forum to consult and discuss matters of human rights and inclusion.

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