first_imgAn independent human rights board of inquiry has found that the Halifax Regional School Board, former Halifax West High School teacher John Orlando and former principal Gordon Young discriminated against Lindsay Willow of Hammonds Plains on the basis of perceived sexual orientation. Ms. Willow had been accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour with a female student by two teachers at the school. She complained to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in August 2001, that John Orlando believed she was a lesbian and made the accusation as a result. Ms. Willow alleged that, even though the Halifax Regional Police Service found no basis to proceed with an investigation of the allegation, her career prospects were damaged and she continued to be harassed by colleagues. Board chair Walter Thompson has ordered the Halifax Regional School Board to pay Ms. Willow $27,375 in damages. That figure includes interest. The damages cover the pain and suffering Ms. Willow experienced during the school year in which the incident occurred, as well as $5,000 for involving the police and $5,000 for each following year Gordon Young remained principal at the school. Mr. Thompson also ordered compensation of $2,500 be paid to the student involved in the situation and $1,000 to cover costs incurred by Ms. Willow’s parents. The school board has been ordered to provide Ms. Willow with a full written retraction of the allegations that were made against her, and an apology for the involvement of the police and any lingering suspicion she has experienced. In his decision, the board chair accepted Ms. Willow’s argument that her perceived sexual orientation motivated the allegation of inappropriate contact made against her. “The circumstances were not suspicious. They were innocent. The construction of them as indicative of a sexual assault demonstrates, in my view, an element of discrimination against Ms. Willow because of her perceived sexual orientation,” wrote Mr. Thompson. The board chair also accepted that an element of discrimination played a role in John Orlando’s motivation for making an allegation against Ms. Willow. “I cannot fathom [Orlando’s] thinking,” wrote Mr. Thompson. “I am driven reluctantly to the conclusion that prejudice was at least a factor in his decision and … bringing it forward to the school administration.” The decision notes that then-principal Gordon Young made no effort to apologize to Ms. Willow when it became clear that there was no basis for the allegations against her, nor did he attempt to protect her from ongoing suspicion. “Dr. Young had a positive duty towards her to create a positive work environment for her. He did not fulfill it. Instead, he compounded the difficulties of her life within the school,” Mr. Thompson ruled. The school board was also found to be liable because of its response to the incident. “The board chose to analyze her complaint within the context of the collective agreement, found no violation, obtusely blamed the police for coming to the school, and washed its hands of the complaint,” said Mr. Thompson in his decision. “I find the board failed in its duty to provide a positive environment for someone perceived to be gay and was not vigilant to protect her.” A complaint is referred to an independent board of inquiry when the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission believes a prima facie case of discrimination is made after an investigation by a human rights officer. The chief judge of the provincial court selects a board chair from a roster and the commissioners ratify the nomination. The decision on the complaint is then in the hands of the independent board. Evidence collected during investigation of a complaint is presented at the hearing by the commission’s legal counsel. The complainant and respondent can make submissions and question witnesses. The board chair then decides whether discrimination has occurred. All parties have a right to appeal decisions of boards of inquiry to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. A copy of the decision is available on the commission’s website at http://gov.ns.ca/humanrights/last_img

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