By Nicole Schmidt
Gilary Massa, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU)’s former executive director of communications and outreach (EDCO), has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario after being laid off during her maternity leave.
Her position was eliminated on Dec. 1 due to “financial constraints.” One day earlier, Natasha Campagna, former student engagement and business development coordinator of the Ryerson Commerce Society, started as the RSU’s new full-time general manager — a position that was created last semester.
Massa said her layoff has affected her financial stability, as well as her ability to raise her daughter. “I did it all right. I got an education, I had a job and then started a family, but it all got taken away in one fell swoop,” she said. “I loved my job, and the best thing for me and my family is to be reinstated.”
Saron Gebresellassi, Massa’s lawyer, said the RSU made several breaches against the Ontario Human Rights Code, which prohibits actions that discriminate against gender and family status. “In our province it’s against the law to fire people when they’re on maternity leave and that’s the premise we are operating under,” said Gebresellassi.
RSU president Andrea Bartlett said in a statement that Massa’s claims aren’t about having a job, they’re political.
“Massa can make her allegations in whatever legal venue she sees fit. The executive stands by its decision,” Bartlett wrote. “The decision to eliminate the EDCO position was not about Ms. Massa, it was about making the RSU sustainable.”
According to Social Justice Tribunals Ontario’s procedure, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario will mediate the dispute if Massa and the RSU both agree to mediation, which Gebresellassi said is the desired goal, in addition to raising awareness about human rights violations against women.”The tribunal doesn’t look kindly on this kind of conduct on the part of employers. Part of the goal is to prevent reoccurrence,” said Gebresellassi.
If both sides can’t reach an agreement, a hearing will be held for the application. If the application is not dismissed, the tribunal can order the RSU to provide remedies, including monetary compensation or a change in RSU policy.
But after Massa was laid off, her union publicly declared that it would fight the layoff through a grievance procedure (a type of dispute resolution used to address complaints by employees). “That procedure can address any human rights issues, making her Tribunal application redundant,” wrote Bartlett, adding that she expects the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal will defer her complaint because of this.
“It is worth noting that the union grievance procedure is confidential, and Ms. Massa is seeking publicity,” wrote Bartlett. “Second, there is an election underway that wasn’t happening in December, when this first happened.”
With files from Igor Magun