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Former firefighter still fighting workplace sexism and misogyny

by Robert Devet

A 10-year battle with HRM about workplace misogyny and discrimination is reaching a deciding stage, and former firefighter Liane Tessier needs our help. Photo contributed
A 10-year battle with HRM about workplace misogyny and discrimination is reaching a deciding stage, and former firefighter Liane Tessier needs our help. Photo contributed

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - For ten years now former Halifax firefighter Liane Tessier has battled gender discrimination and misogyny in her workplace, and in the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

She’s been doing so mostly on her own.  She could use some help.

It all started when Tessier complained about the pervasive sexism she encountered at the Herring Cove fire station  

“Each time I spoke up I got retaliated against,” Tessier told the Halifax Media Co-op this summer. “Once you speak up about something that happened to you, you get attacked through malicious gossip, or through lies and exaggerations.”

When she didn’t get anywhere with the city, she took her complaint to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.  

That's where things really went off the rails.

Investigators for the Human Rights Commission spent five years ignoring and mismanaging Tessier’s complaint, only to dismiss it.

But Tessier fought back. She took the Human Rights Commission, and the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) to court.

Tessier won that case. Justice Arthur LeBlanc quashed the original dismissal, and in a precedent-setting decision awarded damages to Tessier. Key witnesses were not heard, there were numerous delays, and investigators showed bias against Tessier throughout, LeBlanc concluded in May of 2014.

Now Tessier is looking for help so that she can continue her quest for justice.

The Human Rights Commission is once again determining whether to proceed with a hearing or to dismiss Tessier’s case. Tessier was recently able to hire a lawyer, but she is up against HRM and all its financial and legal resources.

“They are still interviewing people, my witnesses, and HRM has their witnesses, the Halifax lawyers are digging up all kinds of people to prove that this sexism I encountered is not a systemic issue,” Tessier says.

The preliminary investigation will lead to either dismissal or a Board of Inquiry. The third possible outcome, mediation, is of no interest to her, says Tessier, who wants the public hearings a Board of Inquiry entails.

Tessier is asking for donations to help with her legal costs. She estimates that over the years she has spent $40,000 of her own money.

This is not just about her, says Tessier, who talks about starting a foundation dedicated to research and education on gender discrimination in the workplace.

“Blue collar workers facing male-dominated work environments have been speaking out for decades, but without much support,” says Tessier. “This kind of workplace violence against women is just not taken seriously, not by employers, not by unions, and not by the general public.”

“Women in IT, politics, lawyers, academics, are beginning to speak out. But women in traditionally male jobs like cops, firefighters, stevedores, and so on, are also up close and personal with these types of misogyny every day,” Tessier says.

And not just employers, says Tessier.  “I have been talking to women with similar experiences all across the country.  Every single one of us said their union is just as bad as their employer.”

“The big thing is that  I fought tooth and nail for this judicial review (of the Human Rights Commission decision), and it was successful,” Tessier says.  Now there is another chance that my gender discrimination case will be heard. This is an important issue for all of us women.”

 

Click here to find out more about Tessier’s case and make a donation to help with legal costs.

You can contact Liane Tessier via her website.

Liane Tessier’s case was recently featured on the CBC’s the Fifth Estate.

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter

 

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