Shannon's Story in a Nutshell

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I) Discriminatory treatment in my workplace (2009-2011)

In 2009, despite 10 years with an impeccable employment record as a psychology professor at Saint Mary’s University, I began experiencing harassment and discrimination from a supervisor. The issues began while I was in recovery from a brain-related surgery and persisted throughout several subsequent surgeries and prolonged recovery periods. I had the documentation to support my concerns, and I had a legitimate right to have them heard and addressed fairly - as do we all.

II) My union’s misrepresentation (2010-2015)

In their role as representatives in the discrimination grievance with SMU, my union officials (CUPE, 3912) behaved in ways that could only be considered unfair and misrepresentative. A few examples of their breaches in my case, include:  

  • Claiming that my surgeries and mild depression made me “less easy going than usual” which in turn justified the treatment I received by my employer - treatment which the union had initially agreed constituted harassment.
  • Accusing me of having a personality disorder, refusing to speak with me until I was cleared by a full psychological assessment, and then sharing that assessment with others who didn’t have clearance to view it (a serious breach of privacy).
  • Telephoning my family doctor, without my knowledge or permission, in an attempt to have her reverse her earlier “healthy and able to return to work” diagnosis.

After my union officials took nearly three and a half years to process my grievance (the time limit is supposed to be one year) and excluded me entirely from the final settlement meeting with my employer, I decided to move forward with a complaint the N.S. Labour Board.

III) My experience with the “watchdog” boards

The N.S. Labour Board: (2015-2016)

My Duty of Fair Representation (DFR) complaint - a 376 page document compiled by my legal counsel, Presse Mason - outlined the misrepresentation and mishandling of my workplace discrimination grievance by CUPE union officials. The Labour Board official dealing with my complaint held on to it for a full year and then summarily dismissed it with no investigation into my concerns.


The N.S. Human Rights Commission:(2011- ongoing)

In early 2011, I attempted to file a complaint with the N.S. Human Rights Commission (HRC). I was told that my union officials had jurisdiction over my case and that the HRC would consider my complaint only after I had exhausted my options with my union. As of September 2018, my complaint is still being investigated, but given that the N.S. HRC complaint success rate statistics are less than 1% (1), I’m not holding out much hope.


1 N.S. HRC Annual Reports, and (www.canlii.org/en/ns/nshrc)

IV) Judicial review and appeals (2016)

My appeal to the courts for a judicial review of the N.S. Labour Board’s summary dismissal of my DFR complaint resulted in the supreme court judge concluding that my union had failed to represent me fairly, and that they had acted in bad faith. The N.S. Labour Board was ordered to reassess my misrepresentation complaint.


My union officials (CUPE) - implicated in having failed to fairly represent a member- intervened on behalf of the N.S. Labour Board, and appealed the judge’s decision to the N.S. Appeals Court. My supreme court decision was overturned due to administrative law that effectively prevents the court from assessing, questioning, and overturning decisions made by government bodies that have been granted the status of "specialized tribunal" - such as Labour Boards and Human Rights Commissions (1).


1 Dunsmuir v. New Brunswick [2008] SCC

V) Impact

As the bullying from one supervisor grew to include several others in my department and then eventually my own union officials, what began as a mild and understandable depression brought on by health complications, became considerably more severe. My body’s ability to heal became seriously compromised (1): bone shims, surgically implanted to separate my brain from my inner ear during my first and fourth surgery, failed to heal into place, eventually leading to a fifth, and more invasive craniotomy in 2012.


I had always assumed that the systems in place providing access to resolution for Canadians experiencing human rights breaches of this kind would be effective and fair; I assumed wrong. Eight years after first approaching my union officials for help, my workplace discrimination concerns still have not been investigated.


This long struggle has had an immense impact on my physical and emotional well-being; I spent years recovering from depression over the loss of a career that I loved, damage to my reputation, and disillusionment at a system that is seriously flawed. Serious physical symptoms from the multiple corrective surgeries undertaken in the midst of this period persist, affecting my balance and hearing. Too much of my life has been spent in this fight.


My depression only started to subside this past year, after I realized I could speak out on behalf of the untold numbers of other Canadians who have had, and will continue to have their basic rights denied them. Today, I am lucky to be able to say that I am no longer diagnosed with depression, and am 100% medication free.

        

1 Goudin, J.P. & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. (2011). The Impact of Psychological Stress on Wound Healing: Methods and Mechanisms. Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America, 31(1), 81-93