Associate professor files lawsuit against Ryerson for harassment

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By Elizabeth Sargeant

Pria Nippak, an associate professor with the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM), is the most recent faculty member to file a case of racial discrimination with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HTRO) against Ryerson University.

The Ryerson instructor of 20 years announced the case on the morning of Sept. 9 with an email to Ryerson community members. In the email, Nippak pleaded for the community “to help fight institutional racism at the university,” and outlined the six years of discrimination she faced during her employment at the school. Attached was a petition which has received over 300 signatures.

All of these things have been absolutely stripping to my dignity and my self-esteem. They have been difficult for me to digest for sure…I keep trying to get support,” Nippak said. 

According to Nippak, she has lost opportunities to teach and receive tenure, and has been restricted from working with graduates and applying for director positions over the past eight years following a leadership change in her department—despite her having the most seniority. Feelings of being antagonized resulted in an anxiety disorder, Nippak said. 

“At that point, I had only been dealing with white men…No one would call it what it was—racism”

In a 43-minute-long video uploaded to YouTube titled “Racism at Ryerson University: My Story,” that was included in the petition, Nippak stated that she had “thoroughly loved” working at Ryerson and under Winston Isaac—a racialized professor who was the director of TRSM’s School of Health Services Management until 2013. 

However, when James Tiessen took over in late 2012, Nippak’s sense of comfort in her work environment shifted. 

 “[Tiessen] indicated numerous times that my work was falling short…that I wasn’t doing a sufficient amount and I needed to do more,” said Nippak. “I was very concerned and continued going to the union, and my union was constantly telling me I was fine.” 

Tiessen was involved in Nippak’s requests to become a tenured professor, being required to write her letter of recommendation.

“I was looking forward to teaching but I got pushback immediately and I was told I wasn’t allowed to teach,” said Nippak. “I repeatedly went to my union…and all they said was ‘all we can do is talk to Jim [Tiessen] and hopefully he’ll listen.’”

Ahmed Sagarwala, an affiliate member of the Yeates School of Graduate Studies, said that he has also heard of negative experiences with Tiessen during 10 years as a racialized faculty member at Ryerson. 

“This isn’t a one-off. There are others stating issues with Tiessen,” Sagarwala commented on Nippak’s petition. 

Despite eventually receiving the position of associate professor in 2015, Nippak said she “reached her tipping point” after receiving no recognition, teaching opportunities or graduate opportunities in the three years following, so she decided to seek additional support. 

According to Nippak, Ryerson’s human rights office labelled what she was experiencing as harassment but couldn’t identify which type. It wasn’t until a racialized grievance officer stepped in that Nippak was told she was facing racial discrimination. 

“At that point, I had only been dealing with white men,” Nippak said. “No one would call it what it was—racism.”

Ryerson’s response

Nippak said she feels like she’s been failed by Ryerson’s human rights office, human resources and the university’s faculty union. 

By January 2019, Nippak said she decided to file with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario when she felt the university was still not taking her discrimination seriously. Shortly after, Ryerson University made an appeal to the HRTO to drop the case.

In an email to Nippak and her lawyer obtained by The Eye, Ryerson said it “denies that it or its directing minds have engaged in any infringement of [Nippak’s] rights under the Human Rights Code…as alleged or at all.”

Ryerson’s faculty union is required to stand with their employees in court during a case of racial discrimination, which the union said could not be determined in Nippak’s case.

The university also attempted mediation, paying for the mediator and Nippak’s legal fees for the mediation. 

”[The mediation] was a complete bust. After almost 14 hours we were unable to settle,” said Nippak. “They attempted to set up another mediation attempt for the following week, but my lawyer let the university know I was not attending.” 

“My lawyer’s exact words were, ‘they clearly don’t want to provide you with your basic human rights with respect to workplace safety.’”

Nippak says she does not yet have a set date for the HRTO trial, but she knows she will not have the support of Ryerson’s faculty union, who she made aware of her email before sending to the wider Ryerson community.

“I wasn’t putting anything out there that the union didn’t know that I was going to do,” Nippak said. “My bigger problem has always been that I wanted to go to the tribunal and I want them to support me.”

“My lawyer’s exact words were, ‘they clearly don’t want to provide you with your basic human rights with respect to workplace safety'”

“At Ryerson University, all human resource issues involving individual employees are addressed as confidential matters,” said Karen Benner, Ryerson’s associate director of communications. “Ongoing efforts are underway to promote dialogue and education on vital issues such as these.”

Dr. Daphne Taras, dean of TRSM, whom Nippak has also accused of harassment, said that it’s crucial that an independent arbitrator hears from all those involved before determining the truth. 

“Making a video is easy; proving each allegation when there are competing facts is difficult. It takes a great deal of patience to allow justice to be done, and I urge caution,” said Taras.

Carol Sutherland, a former Ryerson staff member and creator of Ryerson’s Black Faculty and Staff Community Network, also filed an HRTO case against Ryerson in January 2019 after being fired while she was on medical leave. Sutherland’s union has also filed three grievances on her behalf, on the basis of wrongful termination, discrimination on the basis of disability, anti-Black racism, bullying and harassment.

“I’ve been oppressed in this position and just working around trying to get myself out from under all of the blockages that I’ve been so self-contained,” Nippak said. “I’ve been just trying to do my job.”

Correction: This article has been updated to better reflect Carol Sutherland’s case against the university. The Eyeopener regrets this error.

Comments

  1. See what the courts say….. I suspect perhaps this person maybe seeking excuses for the fact she just didn’t perform her job well. Maybe it’s not about your ethic origin vs. how good or not good you are at your job….. nowadays everyone is looking to blame someone else for their failings, personal responsibility is out the door…..

    1. Speaking as a minority myself, which im annoyed to have to bring up, I’m wondering the same thing. Although I’m young and without much work experience. But it’s healthy to ask questions. I’m looking forward to seeing how these things will be evaluated. I’m a little tired to see poor work experience having to be claimed to be some form of human rights
      Infringement or discrimination. I’ve had to sit through a power point presentation where someone claimed that racism toward white people didnt exist. I can’t wait for the garbage to be collected so that we can actually focus on real human rights issues in parts of the world that are clearly needed. Sometimes work just sucks, and it’s not a huge conspiracy.

      1. This is the usual fallacy coming from the conspiracy websites.

        “Anti-white racism” by non-whites towards whites do not negatively affect them compared to BIPOC people losing their jobs, living in poverty or being gunned down by police.
        I’ve yet to see a white person get gunned down by police because someone called the cops and yelled assault or rape.
        Why do whites believe that they are the victim when someone of BIPOC is a victim of racism? This is the wrong forum to use your flawed fallacy of reverse racism. It’s suitable for 4chan or those incel websites which promote mass murder of non-whites.

    2. Or maybe you didn’t read the article properly and jumped to conclusions? The Professor applied for advancement but was denied repeatedly without rhyme or reason. Systemic racism may be a factor in that, because there was no mention of poor work ethic until she advocated for her rights.

    3. Well E, it seems you are quick to judge not knowing the whole story. That is the problem with a lot of people now days, making comments without knowing the facts. I personally think it would take a lot of courage for a person to come forward on a public level to take on a big institution. People like her need to come forward to take on the systemic racism that is going on.

  2. Or maybe you just were not competent. I am a woman of color and I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed other women of color claim discrimination when in fact they were just not performing up to standards. It is embarrassing and disheartening for those of us who excel in the workplace and reap the words. Don’t use your race or color as a ‘crutch’.

    1. Babe, what’s embarrassing is your reply. Just because you haven’t experienced discrimination, doesn’t mean others haven’t. Don’t dismiss someone else’s lives experiences because you can’t empathize.

    2. Or maybe instead of immediately discrediting her side so quickly (which I’m sure you would not have had she been a man) you should take into account the fact that she’s not the first person who’s reported these types of incidents against with Tiessen that have spanned over 10 years which is something you simply cannot overlook??? Also it seems like you jumped over the part where she said she felt like she might be underperforming and even went to ryerson’s union who repeatedly told her she was doing fine. This is a case of racial discrimination that Ryerson is trying to hide which only ties into the way Canada has a long history of disgusting racism it tries to hide to as like a good country. At least America doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a racist country. Canadians (White Canadians specially) try to act like it doesn’t happen. The fact that you’re saying all this so unabashedly as a women of color yourself is so disrespectful. Instead of immediately accusing her of underperforming maybe you should support her stance instead of silencing her voice like our oppressers do, which I’m sure you’ve experienced. Also it doesn’t matter that other women of color use the race card as a ‘crutch’. If a woman lies about being raped does that mean all women lie about being raped? If that’s your logic as not only a woman, but a woman of color than you some serious questions to ask yourself.

      1. Canada lies to prospective international students and immigrants because Canada wants their money.

    3. Your theory is :

      #WeBelieveSurvivors when Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby and other BIPOC men were dragged through the mud, but #VoteTrump though he admitted to sexually assaulting numerous women.

  3. Ryerson is so racialized. In my department, we were only 4 of us blacks. They kicked out of my colleagues just because she was black. As for me, they denied renewing my contract yet all the other Caucasians get promoted and renewed contracts. They don’t care about black families. Despite that I was an alumni, nobody cared. They only promote their own and there is a lot of nepotism going on. God will judge the wicked!

    1. The system in Canada is that BIPOC people are treated with smiles when buying goods and services from whites, but to get those coveted unionized and tenure jobs at Ryerson, then that is where the problem starts.

      There are many racialized staff who were either falsely accused or threatened to be falsely accused of crimes by Canadian people. Many of the departments which serve BIPOC people such as Spanning the Gaps, Diversity and Equity and Tri-Mentoring had incidents where mainly BIPOC men lost their jobs or they quit their contracts because of Canadian people falsely accusing them of harassment or sex crimes. One falsely accused man was even a gay person! You have to be very careful with white people because they use Toronto Police to settle disputes.

  4. There is no doubt in my mind that there are all sorts of discrimination in all and various institutions in ALL OVER the world, and the Canadian is no exception. How many are reported and how many are heard in court. Let’s work together for a solution and eliminate the racial discrimination, harrassment, inequality as well as the injustice.
    Let’s leave a legacy for the rest of the world that we really care by action, deed and not just word.

  5. This is interesting but I applied once to Ryerson and had an interview with staff at the Civil Engineering dept. The staff at the interview were all visible minorities. Being a white male felt very intimidated at the interview and didn’t think I would get the job which I did not. This article seems to be one sided. I do believe there is something wrong going on. Not discount what this women is saying. But I believe this kind of thing happens to all races and negative exits . You push on bringing people and institutions to court is not the answer

    1. Did the “visible minorities” settle in Canada and murdered millions of Native Indians on the American contient? Do the visible minorities have an advantage in society such as owning houses that are worth millions of dollars today? Would Toronto Police be friends with those visible minorities rather than destroying their lives from elementary school through police carding?

  6. As a faculty I can readily confirm that discrimination at the University is quite easily implemented especially if the rules are unclear. And there is enough frustrated and failed academics to go for a power… Usually those who are very successful in science don’t like the management positions.

    Myself being harassed I pushed back but the harraser being of so called minority brought up the race card against me. The assholes are everywhere… this is a much simpler explanation than the racism…

  7. There was an incident a few years ago of the Dean of Ryerson’s Spanning the Gaps Program being falsely accused of a crime by a Canadian woman. He was Black, and she was Canadian. He had to notify campus security upfront that he is being targeted for a police-induced confrontation, and that he will not resist arrest if police are called to arrest him. The Dean was Black-Jamaican. I’m not mentioning his name because the accusations are serious, though they were false.

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