16 women file human rights complaint against BC Ferries after alleged workplace discrimination

16 women file human rights complaint against BC Ferries after alleged workplace discrimination
Photo credit: Nicholas Pescod/CHEK News

Sixteen women who work in the engineering department at BC Ferries have filed a human rights complaint against the company, alleging “a pattern of ongoing sex and gender-based discrimination” in the workplace.

The B.C. Human Right Tribunal complaint, issued on Tuesday, Nov. 15, summarizes the group’s allegations, which include “experiencing comments in the workplace which humiliate them, either by singling them out as different or by excluding them.”

The complainants say they’re routinely referred to as “girls,” while written correspondence to all staff is addressed to “Gents” and negative remarks are made about period-related mood changes amid “a climate of harassment and bullying of women.”

One chief engineer, alluding to a six-year employee, is also alleged to have said, “I need to behave today because we have ‘company’ (a woman) in the engine room,” states the complaint from Laurence Grey Spencer, who represents the complainants.

“The employer provides changing spaces for men but not for women. The group members are required to change at work, but without proper facilities, they cannot do this without being made to feel like interlopers in men’s changing spaces, and without being interrupted in the spaces where they can change,” the tribunal document reads.

“They must pass through men’s changing spaces to access the toilet or shower. They have insufficient receptacles to dispose of period products. The lack of facilities draws focus to their status as women, [and] causes them to feel different, unwelcome, humiliated, and unsafe in the workplace.”

While said incidents happened between December 2019 and December 2020, the alleged conduct “is an ongoing pattern spanning three decades,” which, according to the complaint, continues up to now.

In response, BC Ferries said the allegations lack specificity and particularity, prompting the company to apply for more details, including who was involved, when the events happened, and what occurred, noted tribunal member Kathleen Smith.

“It also asks for the names of the sixteen group members. BC Ferries argues that it requires this information to know the case it must meet, and to properly respond to the complaint,” Smith wrote in the document.

Yet Spencer opposed the application and the disclosure of names, calling the former “improper, unnecessary, impossible, overboard and irregular” and the latter “unnecessary, impossible, contrary to the purposes of the (Human Rights) Code, and dangerous to the complainants.”

Smith ultimately declined the request for names, saying she was “satisfied that the description of the group in the complaint…provides a sufficient basis,” but added because most of the allegations refer to specific incidents of discrimination, additional details, or particulars, must be provided for BC Ferries.

“I agree with BC Ferries that they are missing the basic facts of who was involved, when the event happened, and what happened…For this reason, I am persuaded that additional details are required for [the company] to know the case it must meet and respond,” she added.

Spencer is asked to provide the particulars by no later than Jan. 10, 2023, with a response from BC Ferries due 35 days later, Smith concluded.

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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