Dismissed Employee Receives $600k for Discrimination

What Happened in the Mema v. City of Nanaimo (No. 2) Case?

In a recent BC Human Rights Tribunal matter, Mema v. City of Nanaimo (No. 2), 2023 BCHRT 91, it was determined that a dismissed employee was entitled to significant damages because he was targeted, in part, due to his race. Discrimination laws in both Ontario and BC make it clear that discrimination may occur where different treatment is in part or whole related to a protected ground. As will be detailed below, employers may be on the hook for significant damages if they allow systemic racism to filter into the treatment of their employees, whether the discrimination is a result of conscious or subconscious bias.

Why Was Mema, the Chief Financial Officer, Dismissed?

The dismissed employee, Mema, was employed as Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”), for the City of Nanaimo. At the time, he was the only black employee. Mema’s dismissal revolved around the use of a corporate credit card. Although the credit card agreement prohibited personal purchases, it was common practice within the City to allow employees to make personal purchases and then reimburse the City. Mema began falling behind on the payments.

While initially there was a finding of no wrongdoing and that the City should clarify its policies, one senior staff member felt that not enough action was taken. She filed a misconduct report against Mema for unauthorized or inappropriate use of city funds, among other allegations, even though Mema was one of many employees using the card for personal purchases. Mema was ultimately out on a paid suspension, and then dismissed.

The Tribunal found that his dismissal was ‘informed by racial stereotypes’, given that Mema was uniquely singled out. There were findings that the suspicions around Mema arose at least in part due to his race, as supported by rumors and comments at the time of his suspension. The Tribunal confirmed that it was enough that Mema’s dismissal was subconsciously in part due to the fact that he was a Black man.

Mema $50,000 in damages for injury to dignity and $583,413.40 for lost wages during the three years since his dismissal – less 25% in recognition that Mema’s difficulties in finding re-employment did not arise solely from the discrimination. This case points to the significant damages that employees may be entitled to if their employer elects to dismiss them for even subconsciously discriminatory motives.

How Can Whitten & Lublin Assist Employees in Addressing Discrimination Issues?

To better understand your human rights and discrimination rights, we encourage employees to seek legal advice. We at Whitten & Lublin are happy to provide insight and advice into your specific circumstances. If you are looking for employment lawyers and would like more information about what Whitten & Lublin can do for you, please contact us online or by phone at (416) 640-2667 today.