By Zena Salem
A Black union worker was fired by Ryerson University’s administration while on medical leave, The Eyeopener has learned.
Carol Sutherland, a union employee at Ryerson’s Equity and Community Inclusion office, was terminated from her position on Jan. 8.
She said that after believing she was having a heart attack, she went to Michael Garron Hospital to get examined. She was told she was having a panic attack as result of workplace stress, she said.
Sutherland said she had to go all the way to Thornhill for an independent medical exam with a particular psychiatrist recommended by Ryerson. She said her psychologist called Ryerson, informing them that this request would cause more stress and anxiety and asked if she could see a doctor close to her home. The request was ignored, she added.
Following a 21-page report from the psychiatrist, Sutherland said Ryerson terminated her.
“They disregarded what my doctor has sent, they disregarded everything,” she said. “They terminated me based on an independent medical exam, a medical exam that Ryerson forced me to go [to], and Ryerson said if I don’t go to that, I [would] be fired,” she said.
Ryerson declined a request for comment, stating that human resource issues are addressed as confidential matters.
“It is the expectation of the university that all Ryerson employees’ behaviour reflect the values and standards of conduct held by the university,” public affairs said in a statement.
Sutherland said Ryerson sent a letter to her home saying she would be terminated if she didn’t meet with HR. She said she attended the Jan. 8 meeting and was told she was fired.
“The termination of Carol is both jarring and awakening”
She said she signed a contract guaranteeing a return to her home position as a customer client services ambassador at the ServiceHub on Jan. 14.
“I called my union representative and she came with me. [HR] said ‘Carol you are fired, we are terminating your employment effective immediately,’” she said.
“Effective immediately [means] my benefit is gone. My medication is $200. I couldn’t afford to buy my medication,” she added.
Sutherland was the founder of the Ryerson Black Faculty and Staff Community Network, an initiative that works to support Black faculty and staff members of the university.
The group works to enhance Ryerson’s academic and cultural diversity, according to the Office of the Vice President Equity and Community Inclusion‘s website.
Mandissa Arlain, Ryerson’s library technician and an executive member of the Ryerson Black Faculty and Staff Community Network, said Sutherland’s firing was unexpected.
“I did not see this coming at all. I and many others saw her as an asset to this institution. Instead of firing her, I wish the institution had used her skills and strengths to help push their equity agenda forward.”
“I wish the institution had used her skills and strengths”
Arlain added that Sutherland had always selflessly supported racialized workers.
“She understands the lived experiences of racialized workers. Those incidents and instances that some of us will inevitably face in this super polite society that publicly endorses messages of equity, community and inclusion, however, still seems to need some time to catch up to those noted ideals,” she added.
Josh Lamers, the co-founder of Ryerson’s Black Liberation Collective (BLC), said Sutherland’s firing is a wake up call.
“The termination of Carol is both jarring and awakening for some to what BLC Ryerson has always known, which is that spaces like the Office of Equity and Community Inclusion are implicated in the ongoing anti-Black climate on Ryerson campus,” he said.
“Carol was well known for being one of the few Black staff at Ryerson who would actually open up her office to Black students and support in quite literally any [or] every way possible,” he added.
The Eyeopener previously reported that Sutherland’s union representative went by the pronoun of “he,” instead they go by “she.” The Eyeopener regrets this error.