Human rights claim against Stellat’en First Nation dismissed

A complaint against Stellat’en First Nation for alleged racial discrimination is dismissed this winter by B.C.’s human rights tribunal.

Slenyah Store

Slenyah Store

A complaint against Stellat’en First Nation for alleged racial discrimination is dismissed this winter by B.C.’s human rights tribunal.

In a decision published on Nov. 9, the BCHRT ruled that complainant Stella Dinsmore, a former employee of Stellat’en’s gas bar Slenyah Store, did not successfully establish that race or colour was a factor in her employment grievances.

On Dec. 12, 2014, Dinsmore filed a complaint against then Stellat’en band manager Sandra Nahornoff for alleged discrimination due to race by not recognizing Dinsmore’s work as an assistant manager in practice from November 2012 to March 2014, reducing her pay in 2013, and not awarding her the manager position even though she was allegedly next in line during the summer of 2014. She identified herself as Indian and Nahornoff as Caucasian.

Dinsmore has been working at the Slenyah Store since October 2009, minus a year of hiatus starting from July 2010 to take care of her ill mother in Malaysia.

She was the acting assistant manager from November 2012 to January 2013 when the store manager was on sick leave, and the assistant manager became the acting manager. When the manager returned, Dinsmore returned to her post as cashier and gas jockey.

When the store manager took leave for education in the summer of 2013, the assistant manager was promoted to the role of operations manager and the store’s bookkeeper became the financial manager. The role of assistant manager was then deemed unnecessary by Nahornoff and left vacant, with already two managerial positions at the store.

Dinsmore expressed her disappointment in not getting promoted and according to Nahornoff, she explained that she wanted the title, even though the financial manager already gave her a pay raise from $13 to $15.

Upon investigation, Nahornoff found out that Dinsmore’s raise was given without authorization and substituted it with a lesser increase in September and another in November 2013, as Stellat’en could not afford the original raise at the time.

On Oct. 6, 2013, the assistant store manager position was advertised under the direction of a newly elected Stellat’en chief and council, but was cancelled in five days due to lack of funds.

At the end of March 2014, the store was incorporated in a limited partnership agreement to be operated by a board of directors and no longer as a Stellat’en department. All employees, including Dinsmore, were laid off and advised to reapply to work under new management.

Out of four candidates, a non-Stellat’en former manager of Slenyah Store that previously turned a struggling Nadleh store to a profitable business was hired as the new manager. Nahornoff assisted with interviewing but was not part of the selection committee.

When the manager role was available again in July, the candidate that was ranked second out of four during the initial hiring process was chosen over Dinsmore according to experience and the ability to pull the store out of its financial crisis.

According to Stellat’en, incorporation of the store, as recommended by Nahornoff, was one of her steps in improving the store’s profitability since becoming band manager in January 2013. The store’s accounts had gone into overdraft and bookkeeping was behind by 10 months, which led to an incomplete annual audit of Stellat’en and the holding back of funding to the First Nation from the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

Other steps included having Stellat’en provide overdraft protection for the store, getting bookkeeping assistance from the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, paying back taxes, and reducing labour costs.

Tribunal member Vladimir Pylypchuk acknowledged that “employers do not always advertise their discriminatory conduct or discriminatory mindset,” but the corporate restructuring and hiring process did not suggest any discrimination, he stated.

Pylypchuk indicated further that even if Dinsmore asserted correctly that she was working as an assistant store manager in effect from 2012 to 2014, race or colour cannot be established above speculation as the reason for her being denied the role of assistant manager.

“As a consequence, I find that the complaint has no reasonable prospect of success were it to go to a hearing.”