Tribunal to hear workplace complaint against Prince George construction company

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An employee at a construction company says he kept hearing the N-word at work and it made him feel unsafe.

The BC Human Rights Tribunal has denied a motion to dismiss a complaint from a black man who believes he has been constructively fired from his construction job.

“I believe the real reason I quit was that I no longer tolerated the use of the n-word by Ruskin’s employees and that I eventually spoke out against the use of the n-word,” said Francis Sarba, who filed the lawsuit had a human rights complaint related to his employment with Ruskin Construction Inc., headquartered in Prince George.

Sarba claims his manager and the company racially harassed him at work three times; The alleged treatment made him unsafe and, according to court documents, led to the termination of his employment.

He alleges the conduct of Ruskin and associates Steve Chauvin, Dan Homeniuk and Reza Moham constitutes discrimination based on race and color and violates the province’s human rights code.

The defendants have denied the discrimination and have moved to have the complaint dismissed.

In a February 15 decision denying that motion, Court Member Amber Prince said there was too much conflicting evidence to conclude that the appeal had no reasonable chance of succeeding.

The decision said Sarba was employed by Ruskin, a specialist construction company, from July to November 2019. He was a bridge builder working at a site near Prince Rupert.

In his complaint, Sarba said the first instance of racial harassment occurred when foreman Dale Ross allegedly made “numerous derogatory comments about visible minorities in Canada, including black Canadians, and First Nations people.”

He said Ross repeatedly used the N-word to him and in front of colleagues. Sarba said the alleged behavior affected his relationships with other colleagues and his sense of security at work.

Sarba said a First Nations employee, JR, had filed a formal complaint about Ross’ behavior, including his use of the N-word in reference to Sarba.

Prince’s decision said Sarba said that Ruskin conducted an investigation and found that Ross had been harassing the employees he supervised because of their ethnicity and race.

While Sarba said Ross was fired, the company said an investigation was conducted in which Ross denied the allegations. The company said he was pulled away from those employees.

In the second alleged incident, Sarba said supervisor Moham asked him to attend a meeting. Sarba asked his union rep, Trevor Dorey, to attend, but Moham had said there was no need as it was just a “friendly chat”.

At the meeting, Sarba claims Moham said the following words: “I’m not supposed to say that, but I have to. You speak of being referred to as a [N‐word] say personally [N‐word] is exactly the same as saying someone is a fascist.”

According to Sarba, Moham went on to say that he did not want to fire Ross and that the complaints about Ross were exaggerated.

Moham denied using the N-word when meeting Sarba and Dorey. He said he asked Sarba if he was sure Ross used the N-word because “accusing someone for using that word was like accusing him/her of racism.”

A day after that meeting, Sarba met with project manager Dan Homeniuk and told him about Moham’s use of alleged racial slurs.

Prince’s decision states that Sarba claimed Homeniuk did not open an investigation, a claim Homeniuk denies.

The tribunal member said Homeniuk received testimony, including one from Moham, who denied the use of the N-word.

“I am not sure why Ruskin did not seek testimony from Trevor Dorey as it appears that Mr. Dorey witnessed what happened at the meeting between Mr. Sarba and Mr. Moham,” Prince said.

On October 2, 2019, Sarba said he was meeting with a colleague at the labor camp when colleague Chauvin arrived.

Sarba alleges that Chauvin said he was the reason Sarba was promoted to a foreman position and that he underestimated Chauvin’s help.

A physical altercation ensued and Sarba claims Chauvin grabbed his hair, pulled out some dreadlocks and called him the N-word.

Both were suspended.

Respondents said Sarba never mentioned Chauvin in a statement or disciplinary meeting with a racial slur.

Homeniuk said Sarba said he would not return after the suspension, while Sarba claims he was fired.

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