Human Rights Tribunal: Queen’s University’s Handling of Philosopher’s Case “Egregious”


A dispute that began in 2008 with Adèle Mercier, associate professor of philosophy at Queen’s University, along with two other colleagues, filing complaints of gender discrimination in her department on behalf of students, and that came to be about the way the university treated Mercier in response (previously), has just been partially resolved, with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ordering the university to pay Mercier $20,000 in general damages and $5,000 in punitive damages.

The Queen’s University Journal reports that a climate review at the time “determined there was an issue of gendered discrimination in the philosophy department,” but that, according to Mercier, “the recommendations given to the department to address the problem were only followed for a short period of time afterwards.”

She decided to bring the discrimination complaints to the Human Rights Tribunal, but that’s when her labour grievances started piling up. Shortly before Mercier filed her discrimination application at the Tribunal, she sent the documented complaints to the various respondents in her department, which Mercier said kickstarted an “academic mobbing.”

She was was accused of harassing the department’s secretaries, and disciplined for complaining to university administrators about a departmental meeting, deprived of her office in the Department of Philosophy and given a different office in a different building.

The relocation resulted in an arbitration that spanned six years under the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal between Mercier and the University for its treatment of the long-time professor. In his decision, Kevin Burkett, the case’s arbitrator, called the University’s handling of the case “egregious.” 

The dispute is not over, though. The Journal reports:

According to Mercier, the Human Rights Tribunal wouldn’t pursue her original discrimination filing from 2008 while there were ongoing labour grievances between her and the University. Now that the labour grievances have been settled, however, Mercier said she will return to her original complaint.

Details here.

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Tom
Tom
4 years ago

The Daily Nous summary is highly misleading, judging solely by the article it links to, in that the first paragraph of the post wrongly reads as if the award was for gender discrimination. The article linked to says that case arbitrator found the manner in which they kicked out the professor “egregious” in that they kicked her out suddenly and in an undignified manner. That’s why she received the money. The arbitrator even said it may have been reasonable to separate her from the secretaries. The award was not because of any finding that she suffered gender discrimination.

Look at the first paragraph of the original Daily Nous post again: “A dispute that began in 2008 with Adèle Mercier, associate professor of philosophy at Queen’s University, along with two other colleagues, filing complaints of gender discrimination in her department on behalf of students (previously), has just been partially resolved, with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ordering the university to pay Mercier $20,000 in general damages and $5,000 in punitive damages.”

Daily Nous’s sentence, by referring to how disputes began in 2008, and inserting the clause of “complaints of gender discrimination” and saying the dispute has been “partially resolved” easily misleads readers to think that the award was for that gender discrimination. None of Mercier’s complaints about gender discrimination specifically have been vindicated by this award (at least according to the linked article; I only speak with reference to that): However, the smooshed together clauses and manner of presentation in this Daily Nous post obscure this. A clarification should be issued.

Adele Mercier
Adele Mercier
Reply to  Tom
11 months ago

Since “Tom” requires clarification, we oblige, for the sake of posterity…

Tom’s take in the above is also highly misleading:
The arbitrator even said it may have been reasonable to separate her from the secretaries.” This way of putting it might suggest that the professor required separating from the secretaries. Nothing warrants this reading.
What the arbitrator found “possibly reasonable” was to separate *persons in conflict*; and since the secretaries were wedded to their office in the department, but the professor was moveable, it was possibly reasonable that the professor be the one moved.
However, the arbitrator did find that the university’s actions, though possibly reasonable, had actually been “unreasonable”, indeed “extraordinary,” “unprecedented,” “deliberate, and therefore egregious”.
We know of no other time in recorded labour history that an arbitrator ordered a Canadian university to pay punitive damages in a labour grievance.
The award was indeed not about gender discrimination. It had been agreed in advance by all parties that any human rights aspect of the grievances was to be referred to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. (Which has since become moribund under the Conservative Government.) The case was only about labour mistreatment.

What was the conflict about with the secretaries?
1. The secretaries were upset that the professor had filed a gender discrimination complaint in defence of students. (Some women are like that.) They felt comfortable enough with this professor, after numerous years of nothing but very kindly rapport, to chastise her “for starting her thing”.
2. The professor later complained when one secretary routinely began to omit recording in the minutes of department meetings, contrary to all agreed-upon Rules of Order, every motion she introduced. All were motions related to the department’s failure to implement the recommendations of the climate review.
3. The professor also complained after the secretary called her “a witch” to a graduate student, who then reported it. (Students widely admire this witch.)
4.Then, and only then, did the secretaries claim to “fear” the professor, who was removed from her building *as a safety threat*. The only reason the secretaries ever gave for their alleged fear is: “They didn’t know what she might do.” (Professor Mercier had never said or done anything reasonably considered fearsome –except to file a complaint, first of gender discrimination, then of reprisals for having exercised her right, in fact, her expressly stated duty, to file one.)
5.Professor Mercier had insisted in her complaint against the secretaries that they not be disciplined, and that they be told of such insistence (they were not), because she felt that they were being weaponized by the faculty whose actions towards students were originally complained about.

“None of Mercier’s complaints about gender discrimination specifically have been vindicated by this award” ?
Although true (by mutual agreement) about the award, we leave it to the judgment of the reader to decide whether treating as a safety threat, in a “deliberate and egregious” manner, an accomplished and well-loved professor (or “witch”), *in lieu of* investigating her complaints of gender discrimination and reprisals (which was never done despite the law requiring it), itself vindicates her complaint of gender discrimination.

Dan McKeown
Dan McKeown
4 years ago

I agree with Tom’s comment that the Daily Nous piece is highly misleading. The decision was authored by a labour arbitrator, appointed by the parties to a collective agreement to decide a dispute that spawned two union grievances regarding the manner of Professor Mercier’s removal from her office temporarily while a workplace investigation ensued. The arbitrator is not a “human rights tribunal”. The arbitrator did not address, decide or resolve any human rights issues in his decisions. Two human rights applications, filed by Professor Mercier with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, remain outstanding.

Adele Mercier
Adele Mercier
Reply to  Dan McKeown
11 months ago

“Professor Mercier’s removal from her office *temporarily* while a workplace investigation ensured” is a shameless way of rendering the facts, Dan. As you well know, what you refer to as a “temporary” removal lasted four years! It took two years to perform a simple investigation that exonerated Professor Mercier completely of ever posing any safety threat to anyone, and another two years for you to let her back in her office despite this exoneration…

We leave it to the judgment of the reader whether “deliberately and egregiously” ostracizing an accomplished and well-loved professor, whose only fault in fifteen years of undisputed diligent service was to file a complaint of gender discrimination and reprisal, itself vindicates her complaint of gender discrimination and reprisal.