A gay jail guard who endured years of torment at the hands of his Ottawa employers says he will seek a judicial review after being awarded nearly $100,000 in damages, the highest amount Ontario’s grievance settlement board has ever awarded for breaches of the Human Rights Code.
Robert Ranger sought $3.5 million in damages for the “sexual harassment and discrimination” he endured while working at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre between 1998 and 2002.
In the decision, released July 25, grievance settlement board vice-chair Deborah Leighton says the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCC) caused permanent damage to Ranger but not to the tune of millions of dollars.
A 2010 decision by the grievance settlement board named Mark Grady, who was president of the correctional services Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 411, as Ranger’s chief bully.
According to the 2010 decision, Grady simulated sex acts to taunt Ranger, repeated the word “cocksucker” in a manner that was not part of conversation in front of Ranger and made sexual jokes at a training session on Feb 11, 2002, at Ranger’s expense.
Ranger says that the ordeal left him feeling suicidal and that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Leighton awarded Ranger $45,000 for violations of the Human Rights Code and $53,000 for his employer’s failure to secure him another position but denied Ranger’s punitive damages claim for the loss of his relationship, pain and suffering.
Ranger says he respects Leighton but finds her latest decision on damages puzzling.
“Ms Leighton hears most of the grievances from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and is aware of this employer's ongoing harassment and discrimination,” he contends.
Ranger points to aboriginal correctional services employee Michael McKinnon’s landmark case against MCSCC, which settled out of court in 2011 after 23 years of legal proceedings, as evidence that nothing is changing at MCSCC.
“This employer was ordered by Professor Hubard in tribunal court in the McKinnon case to implement several orders to correct their misconduct. Ministry-wide, little to nothing was taken seriously,” he says. “This was ordered many years before my case came to be. If these orders were seriously implemented, I may not have had to endure the sexual harassment and discrimination in a poisonous work environment. I suffered and have been tortured for now over 21 years with this employer. I have an immaculate, clean record with several letters of commendation for quick thinking and fast actions.”
McKinnon agrees that Ranger’s compensation should be greater and the paltry sum will do nothing to deter discrimination in the future.
“Nothing is changing in that ministry. The status quo remains the same, and if you’re different, expect to be treated differently,” McKinnon says. “It’s obvious that the process of the grievance settlement board is not keeping up with the times. With the settlement that he received, it sends out a clear indicator to anybody that wants to be causing anybody any problems . . . it’s a minimal deterrent.”
But MCSCC spokesperson Brent Ross says, “the ministry supports diversity in our correctional facilities and strives for an inclusive and welcoming work environment for all of its employees.”
“We are making excellent progress with our project partners on the Human Rights Project Charter, which is supporting human rights organizational change initiatives within the ministry. Furthermore, all Ontario Public Service employees are subject to a strict workplace discrimination and harassment policy, and Correctional Services is no exception.”
In a letter of apology dated Aug 12, Stephen Rhodes, deputy minister of correctional services, offers Ranger a “sincere apology” for what he endured during his employment.
“Although the long-standing proceedings before the grievance settlement board have now concluded, I am confident the ministry and its employees have learned some valuable lessons related to the issues you have raised,” Rhodes writes.
Ranger’s lawyer, Donald Eady, did not respond to a request for comment. However, Ranger directed Xtra to lawyer Selwyn Pieters, whom Ranger is seeking to replace Eady.
Pieters says Ranger and Eady have “reached an impasse in respect to representation.”
A judicial review from start to finish takes up to one year, Pieters explains. The purpose of the review is to “determine whether or not the decision made was reasonable,” Pieters says.
Additionally, Grady, who was fired from MCSCC in 2010, has reached a settlement with the employer stemming from his own civil action against MCSCC.
Pieters says Ranger is entitled to know the details of Grady’s settlement.
Ranger now holds a position at a courthouse and says that in light of all the media coverage of international homophobia, Canadians need to be reminded that discrimination still occurs within our own borders.
“You don’t have to live in Russia to be harassed for being gay,” Ranger says.