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Montreal, June 11, 2013 --- After 11 years of struggle, a professional of Haitian background has won a major precedent-setting legal battle against his employer, the City of Montreal, on systemic racism in promotion to management positions.

In a decision rendered on June 4, 2013, Mr. Justice Mark Peacock of the Quebec Superior Court concludes that Mr. Jean-Olthène Tanisma has been a victim of systemic racial discrimination in employment at the City and that his employer has to pay him $ 30,000 in damages; in addition, he orders that all management positions at the City be clearly and publicly advertised internally and externally. Finally, the Court “strongly recommends” that upon his return to work, Mr. Tanisma has access to all work opportunities under the City’s employment equity program and that he be given management training.

“Even if it takes me 11 years, this battle against systemic racism in employment gave me back my pride and my dignity to which I am entitled as a full-fledged citizen”, said Mr. Tanisma.“I fought this battle not only to defend my civil rights, but also for the advancement of all other visible minorities in Montreal who are still so under-represented in decision-making and management positions in the public sector.”

Mr. Tanisma, an urban planning advisor at the City since 1988, applied for four manager positions after the City’s merger in 2002, under Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s administration. His application was rejected. The City justified its decision by invoking the Transition Committee’s rule whereby professionals were not eligible for management positions unless they had held “superior functions” as managers in one of the boroughs or if they had held management positions six months prior to applying. However, the City appointed four other professionals in Mr. Tanisma’s unit to management positions to which he applied. All four had the same rank as Mr. Tanisma.

With CRARR’s help, Mr. Tanisma filed a civil rights complaint with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission. After three years of investigation, the Commission concluded that there were grounds to support his allegations of systemic racism. Due to long delays in issuing a decision, Mr. Tanisma filed for a mandamus order to compel the Commission to respect its statutory duties. The Commission then decided to drop the complaint due to the legal action taken against it.

Mr. Tanisma then brought the case directly to the Superior Court in 2006 at his own costs. After several years of procedural wranglings launched by the City to challenge the court’s jurisdiction, the Court of Appeal confirmed the lower court’s authority to hear the case. The City sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, which turned down the request and returned the case to the Superior Court for trial.

Mr. Tanisma’s counsels, CRARR lawyer Aymar Missakila and Me Marie Noël Jacob, stated that their client is very pleased with the outcome and praised Mr. Tanisma’s courage, determination, and personal sacrifices at all levels for having carried on the struggle for years.

“After 11 years, our client is naturally pleased, although he deplores the fact that he had to pay from his own pocket to go to court to combat racial discrimination”, said Mr. Missakila. “This decision, which is a first for Quebec, confirms once again the legal parameters to more effectively combat systemic racism in employment,” he added.

During those long years of struggle, Mr. Tanisma was systematically shunned professionally and psychologically by the municipal administration as well as by several managers. He was given no major files for seven years, and his position was abolished after an administrative reorganization. He was then told to reapply for his old position, which he held for 18 years. When he did reapply, he was told that he was not qualified for the position, and was then put on availability. His union filed a grievance of reprisal and it was only then that he was able to be re-integrated to his position.

In 2001, CRARR had warned the Transition Committee of staffing rules that could be discriminatory such as those challenged in Mr. Tanisma’s case.

“This historic decision shows the capital importance for elected officials and the City to truly commit itself to implement employment equity, without direct or systemic discrimination, especially where management positions are concerned, ” said CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi.

“It is essential that during the upcoming election campaign, all candidates address in a concrete and unequivocal manner the issue of employment equity for visible minorities at City Hall,” he added.

Since the creation of the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal in 1990, no case of systemic racism in employment has been brought by the human rights commission before the Tribunal.