Former employee accuses Vernon company of racism - InfoNews

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Former employee accuses Vernon company of racism

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May 11, 2019 - 2:00 PM

VERNON - A former employee who says she was dismissed after she complained about racist comments made by employees of a Vernon coffee roasting business, has won the right to have her case heard at a human rights tribunal.

Charon Nzuzi Luaka alleges she was the target of racism while working at the Canterbury Coffee Corporation and her dismissal by the company in October 2017 was a direct result of complaints she made about the racist comments.

Canterbury Coffee disputes the allegations saying Luaka was let go because her work as a part-time payroll and human resources assistant consistently contained mistakes and she was not qualified for a newly created position after her position was dissolved.

In a ruling dated May 7, British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal member Catherine McCreary dismissed Canterbury Coffee's application to have the case dismissed, allowing Luaka to have her complaint heard at a hearing. McCreary did, however, dismiss Luaka's complaint against Canterbury's chief financial officer Richard Ostereicher in the matter.

According to the decision, Luaka is a black woman of African descent, and the only black person working at the coffee company's Vernon head office.

Luaka alleges in March 2017, one year after she started working at the company, she heard racist remarks from an employee who is also the human resources manager's common-law partner while they were in discussion with a vice president of the company. Luaka alleges she heard remarks saying "immigrants aren’t welcome," and "I don’t want those African immigrants here," and "Muslims are the root of all problems in Canada." Luaka says the remarks were made in front of her and caused her anxiety and made her day-to-day work difficult.

Luaka says she complained to the human resources manager about the remarks but nothing was done.

The human resources manager disputes this saying Luaka never mentioned the comments until four months later when Luaka emailed Ostereicher saying expectations put on her in a recent performance review were "overly high and very hard to meet."

According to the decision, Ostereicher investigated the allegation and concluded it was a private conversation in which the human resources manager's partner and a company vice president had been discussing a recent news story about illegal migrants crossings from the USA into Canada and that no racist or discriminatory comments had been made.

However, Luaka says Ostereicher "totally botched" the investigation as it was not in writing. She also alleges Ostereicher told her the common-law partner was from a different generation and was just "rough over the edge."

Five days after Ostereicher informed Luaka of his investigation, an employee who worked with Luaka resigned. The company then made the decision for the vacant position to be merged with Luaka's part-time job, creating a new position and saving them money. In October that year, Luaka was let go and the company cited her lack of qualification for the new position and her history of errors.

Luaka disputes this, pointing to her accounting diploma and experience and blaming her errors on shoddy software, which was the root cause of her mistakes. Luaka alleges she was discriminated against based on her race.

In the decision, McCreary states complaints of discrimination based on race can be difficult to establish and that "indicators of discrimination can be subtle," but acknowledges "some negative comments about immigrants were made" and the complaint can proceed to a hearing.

The tribunal member encouraged the two parties to enter Tribunal-assisted mediation to resolve this complaint.

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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