$8,000 damages for workplace racism

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Canadian furniture retailer Leon’s must pay a former employee $8,000 after a human rights board found she suffered racial discrimination while working for the store.
 
Garnette Cromwell, who worked at a Halifax outlet from 2004 that 2008, experienced at least 10 incidents of racial harassment while working there.
 
Cromwell, who is black, told CTV that the problem of inappropriate racial comments continues to flourish in Nova Scotia and she is hopeful her case will act as a deterrent.
 
"I want the leaders in the workforce to take initiative and take charge and heighten their awareness of discrimination," she said.
 
In one incident, Cromwell said that at a staff function her manager's husband repeatedly called her Contessa, a term she testified was commonly used for slaves working in a master's house.
 
At other times her supervisor referred to her as Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state, when she was talking to customers on the showroom floor.
 
"Being called Condoleezza Rice by one's manager in the presence of customers is not acceptable," the board said in its decision. "The complainant is entitled to be treated professionally, particularly when dealing with the public."
 
In the event that led to her filing a human rights complaint, Cromwell said her supervisor asked her to come to his office for a performance evaluation in 2008. As she entered, she testified that he said, "Everybody out. It's time for a lynching."
 
The human rights board said it was "unacceptable for a manager to threaten physical violence as a joke in a workplace."
 
The board also found Cromwell faced excessive and ongoing discipline for workplace infractions at the store, and was discouraged from applying for management positions.
 
Cromwell, who declared bankruptcy and took a medical leave after the incidents, was seeking $10,000 in damages plus lost wages.
 
She said she would like to receive an apology letter, but she has yet to hear from the company.
No one from Leon's Furniture was available for comment.
 

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