Feds ask court to dismiss $2.5 billion class-action lawsuit brought on by Black public servants
The federal government is asking a judge to dismiss a proposed class-action lawsuit brought forward by a group of Black public servants, who allege discriminatory practices within the public service.
The plaintiffs, led by the Black Class Action Secretariat, filed their suit against the federal government in December 2021 and are seeking damages of $2.5 billion and a court order to implement a "justice and equity promotional plan." In their statement of claim, they say Black employees have been denied promotions and jobs because of their race and faced harassment and belittlement.
"Black workers are facing a crisis within Canada's public service, and nothing material or tangible is being done about it. And those damages continue today," Nicholas Marcus Thompson, executive director of the Black Class Action Secretariat, told CTV's Your Morning on Wednesday.
Thompson, who works as an officer with the Canada Revenue Agency, alleges in the suit that he has been "repeatedly been denied promotions as a consequence of his race and due to his advocacy on behalf of other Black employees" and says Black employees "remain largely invisible" in the upper ranks of the agency.
"This fight is not just about Black employees being left behind it. It's to ensure that all of the underrepresented groups have an opportunity within Canada's public service based on merit," he said.
The claims against the government have not been tested in court.
But in a notice filed on Monday, the feds say the court doesn't have jurisdiction and argue the plaintiffs should have filed a grievance instead, given that most of employees who would be covered under this class action are unionized and subject to collective agreements with grievance policies.
Last week, the Black Class Action Secretariat, in partnership with Amnesty International Canada, also filed a complaint to the UN, arguing that Canada is in violation of its international treaties in its treatment of Black public servants.
In response to the UN complaint, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier issued a statement saying the federal government is developing a "restorative engagement program" for employees who have suffered harassment and discrimination, as well as reviewing its current system for addressing complaints. Fortier also pointed to commitments made in the 2022 federal budget to create a $3.7-million mental health fund for Black public servants.
"We recognize that many Black employees are frustrated and want to see action to address issues of discrimination. We are listening and taking concrete steps," Fortier said last Thursday.
But Thompson believes the government's attempt to get the lawsuit dismissed flies in the face of Fortier's acknowledgement of discrimination in the federal government workplaces.
"The Treasury Board said very clearly that … Black workers are facing harm, and that they're working to create a diverse and inclusive public service," Thompson told CTV's Your Morning on Wednesday. "Then the government shows up in court and seeks to dismiss Black workers, seeks to deny Black workers that opportunity in court to have justice."
"So, (the government) is saying one thing to the Canadian public that is politically acceptable. And then in court … it has been fighting Black workers in court for the past two years, and it's finally now moving to dismiss the claim," he added.
A spokesperson for the Treasury Board told CTVNews.ca the feds have been working to "eliminate racism and discrimination from our institutions," but said the courts weren't the right place to launch these complaints.
"Eradicating racism, bias, barriers and discrimination, which have taken root over generations, demands relentless effort and systemic change," the Treasury Board said. "This work includes passing legislation, creating support and development programs, and publishing disaggregated data. And we know there is more to do."