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Montreal, February 22, 2007 --- An Arab agrologist who filed a civil rights complaint against the Coopérative fédérée agricole du Québec for having rejected his application due to his Arab name has won his three-year fight before the Quebec human rights commission. The victory is bittersweet, however, due to the Commission's failure to award fair damages and to order the company to adopt strong measures to remove barriers to equality in employment.

Kamal El Batal is a citizen of Moroccan background. He holds a Master's degree in rural economics, a post MBA in agricultural corporate financing, and is a member of the Quebec Order of Agrologists. Between 2000 and 2003, he applied almost 15 times to the Cooperative fédérée agricole du Québec (CFQ) and never got an answer. In 2003, he applied again for the position of management trainee. He first sent his CV using his own name, Kamal El Batal, and did not get a reply; he then tested the company by sending the same CV, with the same qualifications, but using the name Marc Tremblay. This time, “Marc Tremblay” got a telephone interview, and was retained for the final interview. ”Kamal El Batal” never got an offer for an interview.

Suspecting anti-Arab racism, Mr. El Batal filed a complaint with the Quebec human rights commission in January 2004, claiming 9 months of lost wages and $45,000 in moral and punitive damages. In a decision handed down on January 26, 2007 the Commission found in his favour but required the company to pay only $10,000 in moral damages and $5,000 in lost opportunities. It made no mention of measures forcing the cooperative to remove discriminatory barriers and increase minority representation among its staff.

Despite the welcoming news, Mr. El Batal considers his a half-victory, primarily due to the length of time it took the Commission to investigate his complaint. Tired of waiting and frustrated with other bureaucratic hurdles at the Commission, he retained CRARR's services for his case. Some of the problems he encountered included delays (for months, he could not get an update about his case. In one instance, it took the Commission almost six months to contact the respondent for additional information) and lack of attention to key evidence (the first investigator handling the case failed to consider essential evidence, which led CRARR to request a change of investigator).

“Without the support of CRARR, I would have never lasted this long because it was as discouraging in dealing with the Commission as it was in dealing with the respondent company itself. If I were alone, I would have dropped my case a long time ago,” he said.

The Commission's timid remedial measures left him perplexed. “If the Commission took this long to come up with a decision like this, victims of racism in employment should ask themselves whether it is worth going to the Commission at all.”

“I expected the Commission to at least impose public interest remedies such as a mandatory review of the Cooperative's employment practices or an employment equity program to increase the dismal low representation of visible minorities among its employees,” he said. “Frankly, the conservative damages being awarded will do nothing to deter other employers from practicing exclusion and discrimination,” he added.

Despite this let-down, Mr. El Batal believes that his case sets a precedent because it reveals one of the worst kept secrets of the Quebec job market: having an Arab or non-Christian name on one's CV in a post 9-11 economy is an enormous liability for many highly skilled citizens or permanent residents. The recent emotional debate on reasonable accommodation may make many potential employers hesitant about hiring anyone with an Arabic or Muslim sounding name.

Despite this bias, Mr. El Batal encourages job seekers with Arabic, Muslim or non-Christian names not to change their names or employ the France-styled “anonymous CVs” as a way to avoid being rejected at the pre-selection stage.

“We cannot hide ourselves in a country governed by Charters of rights and freedoms and laws that require employers to implement employment equity for minorities,” he said. “We have to face racism in the job market head-on.”

Mr. El Batal will donate a part of his damages to CRARR to help develop an anti-racist job testing strategy and assist Arab and other minority Quebecers who are victims of racism in employment. “I want a group like CRARR to help minorities and immigrants bring employers who discriminate at the hiring stage to justice,” he said.

The CFQ has until March 9 to comply with the human rights commission's ruling, failing which the commission will bring the case before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal.