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BC business owner who exploited immigrant employee ordered to pay $61,000

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A BC business owner who knowingly exploited a young female South Asian immigrant by taking advantage of her precarious immigration status to not pay her properly for two years is on the hook for $61,000.

According to a June 28 BC Human Rights Tribunal decision, Harika Kasagoni came to Canada in 2014 from a small village in India to escape violence and got a job at a Burnaby gas station owned by Kuldip Singh.

However, Singh underpaid Kasagoni for long shifts at the gas station and then accused her of lying when she fell at work and submitted a WorkSafeBC claim.

Singh then ended up firing her which exacerbated her immigration aspirations because the job was essential for her to obtain permanent residency status.

The case highlights the precarious working arrangements immigrants may face when they arrive in Canada.

"Immigrants to Canada are uniquely vulnerable to discrimination," the Tribunal said in the decision. "This vulnerability increases exponentially the more deeply the person is reliant on their employer for not only their income but also their immigration status, housing, and ability to work in Canada."

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The decision said sometime after arriving in Canada, Kasagoni applied to the Provincial Nominee Program to obtain permanent residency in Canada and needed Singh's support for her application.

She worked at the Willingdon Husky owned by Singh's company J Singh Enterprises Ltd.

Kasagoni had worked at the gas station for two years when she fell at work in December 2016.

The decision said she submitted a WorkSafeBC claim which was accepted but angered Singh who accused her of "cheating him" and "lying."

She claimed Singh harassed, threatened and intimidated her about the claim.

Singh stuck with his theory that Kasagoni was lying about her fall throughout the Human Rights Tribunal hearing.

However, the Tribunal found there was "no evidence" to support any of his theories.

"I also find it more likely than not that Mr. Singh invoked his most powerful leverage over Ms. Kasagoni and threatened to withdraw his support for her (immigration) application if she did not withdraw the claim," the Tribunal ruled.

The Tribunal also ruled Singh "actively fuelled gossip" at work that led to a poisoned work environment as other staff believed Kasagoni was lying.

He said Kasagoni was like a daughter to him as he was an immigrant to Canada himself. He said he was a leader in his community and it was his religious and cultural duty to help people.

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Kasagoni also said Singh had underpaid her for years.

In one example, the gas station employee had worked 130 hours in two weeks but only been paid for 80.

During the hearing, Singh argued Kasagoni had stolen the schedules from his office and modified them. He later admitted in cross-examination that he was "drastically underpaying her."

However, he argued it was an "oversight," but the Tribunal dismissed it as an oversight.

"Mr. Singh is a sophisticated business owner with up to 35 employees across several locations," the Tribunal ruled. "These 'oversights' persisted for years and were repeated with every paycheque."

The Tribunal ruled he only started paying vacation and statutory holiday pay when he agreed to support her immigration process, knowing it would be detected in the paperwork if he didn't pay it. However, he still didn't pay overtime.

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At one point Singh promoted her to assistant manager and increased her pay to fit in with the skilled worker application.

He then argued his "generosity" towards Kasagoni had cost him $17,000.

"It is not clear how he arrived at this calculation but, in my view, it is revealing of how he viewed the situation: Ms. Kasagoni was in his debt," the Tribunal ruled.

Ultimately, the Tribunal ordered Singh to pay $24,517 in unpaid wages.

"(Singh's) practice of underpaying Ms. Kasagoni cannot be disentangled from her identity as a young, racialized woman from rural India," the Tribunal ruled.

Kasagoni also claimed she had paid an immigration consultant $6,500 in cash with the money to be given to Singh for his support.

However, the Tribunal said the evidence was insufficient but it was "equally possible" that the immigration consultant misled Kasagoni and kept this money for himself.

The Tribunal also ruled Singh had without explanation not disclosed payroll and accounting information requested in the case.

For this, it ordered him to pay $1,000 for improper conduct.

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"The dynamics, in this case, were marked by a deep power imbalance that created conditions for Ms. Kasagoni to be exploited for two years and to ultimately lose her job because of Mr. Singh’s sense of personal betrayal," the Tribunal ruled.

Ultimately, the Tribunal found Singh discriminating against Kasagoni based on race, colour, ancestry, place of origin and disability after her injury, and ordered him to pay $35,000 in compensation.

In total, the case leaves Singh on the hook for $60,772.

Eventually, with a new employer’s support, Kasagoni successfully became a permanent Canadian resident.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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