Home > Industry stuff, Journalists in the news > Human Rights Tribunal dismisses fired editor’s sex discrimination claim vs. Black Press

Human Rights Tribunal dismisses fired editor’s sex discrimination claim vs. Black Press

April 3, 2012

In February, the Supreme Court of British Columbia upheld the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal’s dismissal of a complaint filed by former Grand Forks Gazette editor Shella Gardezi against Black Press.

You can read the full decision here.

Gardezi had alleged that Black Press regional publisher Chuck Bennett had fired her in October of 2010 because she was a woman.

Gardezi had worked as editor of the Gazette in 2008. In July of 2010, the paper was bought by Black Press.

It all started with a paper route.

In mid-October, Bennett sent an email to editors asking them to deliver papers for “Newspaper Carrier Appreciation Week.”

According to Bennett, via the court: “The idea behind the initiative was to show appreciation to the carriers for what they go through to get the papers delivered to readers and that they are a key part of the company.”

According to the court transcript:

Ms. Gardezi complained that on October 14, 2010 Mr. Bennett asked her to deliver newspapers which she considered was outside of her duties and beneath her position as editor. When she expressed her concerns to him, she claims that he became abusive, made ‘baseless accusations about the level and quality’ of her work as editor, and threatened to fire her. He told her she was going to deliver newspapers with ‘a big smile on my face’. She felt this demonstrated ‘sexism.’

In a statement for the respondent, associate publisher Jacqueline Metcalfe told the court that she forwarded an email by Bennett to various papers on Oct. 11 in which he asked editors to help distribute papers. Gardezi was reluctant so Metcalfe suggested they speak to Bennett, who happened to be in the office that day.

Ms. Metcalfe states that she was present throughout the entire meeting between Ms. Gardezi and Mr. Bennett. Ms. Gardezi indicated that she was worried that delivering a route would take her away from her duties as editor. Mr. Bennett suggested that he would help her with workflow strategies to compensate for time lost, but he never threatened to terminate her employment. Ms. Metcalfe also states that she participated in the initiative and delivered a newspaper route.

There was also a dispute about a nicer office Gardezi said she had been promised.

Ms. Gardezi complains that she went into the office on Sunday October 17, 2010, without pay, and cleaned out her old office in preparation for moving to the nicer office. She claims that she later learned that by October 17, Mr. Bennett had already decided to fire her….

Mr. Bennett states that on or around October 17, 2010 there were a number of office moves due to the resignation of the former publisher. He did not ask Ms. Gardezi to come in on a day off and move her office, and that as of that date he had not yet decided to terminate her employment.

Ms. Metcalfe states that she approved Ms. Gardezi’s request to move to the former publisher’s office, but never asked her to come in on a day off to make the move, and had no knowledge on October 17, 2010 that she was going to be terminated.

Then came the firing:

On October 27, 2010 Mr. Bennett terminated Ms. Gardezi without cause and told her she was not the right fit for where they wanted to go with the newspaper. Ms. Gardezi claims that she ‘had done an excellent job for the paper and quickly learned the expectations imposed by Black Press when the company bought the paper on July 1, 2010’. She viewed Mr. Bennett’s comment as baseless and ‘therefore likely related to gender discrimination.’…

On November 16, 2010 Ms. Gardezi learned from her landlady, who also rents a room to Karl Yu, that Mr. Yu, who worked as a reporter at the Grand Forks Gazette, had been appointed to the position as editor of the newspaper. On November 25, 2010 Ms. Gardezi learned that Black Press was hiring another reporter, and she was informed by email from Rick O’Connor, chief operating officer of Black Press, that the reason she was fired was because Mr. Bennett ‘felt a change was necessary with respect to (my) position.’ Ms. Gardezi complained that the only change was that she, a qualified woman, was fired and replaced by an unqualified man.

According to Bennett:

His decision to terminate Ms. Gardezi’s employment was based on her job performance and unwillingness to participate in the workplace initiative, and unrelated to her sex.

Gardezi said:

“by allowing her ‘to work without pay for the benefit of the unqualified male he was planning to replace me with’ shows that Mr. Bennett ‘exploits female employees and demonstrates cruelty in the workplace.'”

Bennett and Black Press argued that Gardezi couldn’t show that there was a connection between her sex and A) the request for her to deliver papers; or B) the decision to fire her. They told the tribunal that nothing was said to indicate that Gardezi had been discriminated against.

After the tribunal dismissed her case, Gardezi responded by arguing that her replacement wasn’t qualified for the job:

… because he had only six months experience as a reporter and no related degree or diploma. On the other hand, she has a diploma in print journalism and six and a half years of experience. She complained that the fact that a qualified woman was fired and replaced with an unqualified man demonstrated gender discrimination.

….

Ms. Gardezi also alleged a number of other facts which were not in her original complaint, including her record of absenteeism compared to Mr. Yu’s, and that Mr. Yu came into work five or 10 minutes late each day, and further details regarding her meeting with Ms. Metcalfe and Mr. Bennett. She provided a lengthy list of other reasons for refusing to deliver newspapers which she did not include in her original complaint and complained that not all of the editors delivered newspapers, but they were not subjected to threats, intimidation, or termination.

[I have refrained from commenting thus far. I will attempt to continue to do so. But I’ll pause to argue that if you come into work “late” each day, it’s probably because nobody has told you that it’s not OK to do so. It seems to me that late arrival, either regular or irregular, is one of the perks that come from a job that isn’t nine-to-five. If they expect you to work nights sometimes. Then they can expect you to drag your sorry ass late once in a while.]

Anyways, back to our soap opera.

The respondents responded to the allegations relating to the decision to hire Mr. Yu. They argued that Ms. Gardezi’s contention that hiring Mr. Yu for the position of editor, when she was more qualified, amounted to discrimination on the basis of sex, was speculative and without factual support. They also asked that the additional facts that were not included in Ms. Gardezi’s original complaint not be considered by the Tribunal.

The tribunal finally dismissed the complaint, noting, in part:

Ms. Gardezi alleges that the eventual appointment of an unqualified male to her position was discriminatory. The Respondents deny that the new appointee was unqualified. Ms. Gardezi does not elaborate on his credentials, qualifications or lack of same. His alleged tardiness or requests for time off in a past role are frankly irrelevant. The appointment of a male worker to Ms. Gardezi’s position, sometime after her dismissal, is not, without more, sufficient to establish that Ms. Gardezi’s sex had any bearing on her dismissal.

And the appeal court agreed:

The Tribunal . . . decided that the respondents had established that Ms. Gardezi’s complaint had no reasonable prospect of success if it were to proceed to a hearing. It decided that the appointment of an unqualified male worker in the place of Ms. Gardezi, without more, was not sufficient to establish that her sex had any bearing on the decision to terminate her employment.

The appeal court judge concluded with a sympathetic word to Gardezi:

Ms. Gardezi is clearly distraught by the Tribunal’s decision. Perhaps I can explain it in other terms: if her position as editor had been replaced by a woman who had the same qualifications as Mr. Yu, Ms. Gardezi most likely would not have complained that she was terminated by reason of her sex. It requires more than the fact that she was replaced by a male with lesser or different qualifications, in order to succeed in proving that the respondents failed to employ her or to continue to her employ her by reason of her sex.

For what it’s worth, Gardezi now operates www.bcbusinessbeat.com and bcbackpackers.com.

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  1. Andrea
    April 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Said it before, say it again: putting young reporters into editor positions is not that weird in Black. I can name four or five people without trying who have done the gig with about 2 or fewer years (including me!). Is it a strategy that you could debate? Yeah, sure. Is it out of the norm here? Hells no.

  2. bcbackpackers
    April 4, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    The fact that you don’t even see a problem with what you’re doing is scary. So scary I had to go start a blog. No, seriously. Here it is: http://arealreporter.wordpress.com/

    • April 4, 2012 at 11:23 pm

      I’m not going to get into a back and forth. I’ve discussed the need for anonymity before. I’ll briefly rehash it again. The point of this blog is to be able to offer a forum for journalists, to point out relevant news stories, and (sometimes) to comment and criticize on our companies’ decisions that affect our profession. The latter, unfortunately, requires anonymity for obvious reasons. Anonymity requires me to refrain from attacking others.
      Let me be very clear here: I did not attack you. A human rights suit against a B.C. newspaper company is, without dispute, news. It would be news if a reporter was found to be wrongfully dismissed. And thus it’s news when a judge rules in favour of the company. I considered not posting the judgement out of sympathy for a fellow journalist. But I could not persuade myself that it is not newsworthy to those who read this site. News judgements cannot be made on feelings like sympathy. Still, I refrained from commenting. You don’t have a problem with what I wrote; you have a problem with the Supreme Court ruling.
      That said, If you or any other reader of this blog can make a genuine case for the ruling not being newsworthy to those employed as reporters and editors in B.C., I will gladly remove the post.
      If not, welcome to blogging.

      • bcbackpackers
        April 5, 2012 at 5:16 am

        Clearly, you ridiculed my case based on the summary by the judge. However, you didn’t bother to look at the original complaint. If you had you would have realized that the facts just don’t add up. In fact, the judge had to rely on a hypothetical situation in order to avoid the prima facie case I had established.
        Unfortunately, the reason the supreme court and the tribunal can rely on hypothetical situations and untruthful statements is because they don’t have to make their source material public until shortly before a hearing. However, if you had contacted me and presented yourself in a professional manner, I would have shown you it.
        In any case, legitimate reporters don’t hide behind a cloak of anonymity. If you had done your due diligence, you wouldn’t have to get into a “back and forth.” Obviously you’re so far away from any knowledge of what that due diligence would be you can’t even read your own post objectively.
        I stand by my assessment. You’re unqualified and you’re posing as a reporter.

  3. bcbackpackers
    April 4, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Aren’t you going to post my comment Black Press reporter?
    I went on the forum to see if there’s anything I can do about irresponsible “journalists” like you.
    “Can I do anything about an anonymous blogger posing as a reporter (even though reporters don’t write anonymous blogs)? This person is writing about me and doesn’t have all the information. I sent a perfectly reasonable, polite and non-spammy comment and he wouldn’t approve it. Surely WordPress should create some way for people to respond to irresponsible people like this.”

    • April 4, 2012 at 10:23 pm

      I approve comments as I see them. I am not attached to my computer. Patience is appreciated. Aside from defending tardiness, I also purposely did not comment on the Supreme Court ruling, as is obvious by the copious amount of quotation marks.
      You are also misguided to assume that I work for Black Press.
      Good luck with your book and website.

  4. bcbackpackers
    April 4, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    If anyone is interested in hearing the full story, I strongly encourage you to contact me. I’m sure I can answer all your questions and raise some questions as well about human rights in BC and the Tribunal. (I also strongly encourage you to take news stories written by “reporters” who don’t use their names when covering controversial issues with the proverbial grain of salt.) I’m planning to write a book and I want to hear from anyone who has been treated unfairly by the current system. This is a very serious issue and it deserves serious treatment.
    By the way, my WordPress site is just an idea I’m kicking around, so please don’t judge my journalism skills on bcbackpackers alone. Ha ha.

    • Kootenaian
      April 5, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      Okay, let’s hear it: how would delivering newspapers have hurt your reputation?

  5. RC
    April 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    If this is referring to the Karl Yu I know — the Karl Yu I know from working on the SFU student paper together many years ago — then I take offence at seeing him referred to as an “unqualified man.”

    Everyone I worked with at The Peak, including Mr. Yu, was top-notch. I can only assume that Mr. Yu has improved upon his potential and delivery in the intervening years, as many (if not all?) members of his cohort have, in various communications-related fields.

    As for the “no related degree or diploma” status inferring something about competency or qualification: Don’t get me started.

    There should be more opportunities in so many fields for on-the-job learning and apprenticeships, as with how journalism used to be.

    Sure, we can get into arguments over whether journalism is more like a trade or like a profession, and thus somehow requires a diploma of some sort. Either way, it’s a lazy model for “qualification” that uses a piece of paper with a foil-embossed logo as a dominant indicator.

  6. Sam V
    April 3, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    As far as I know, every editor working at a Black Press newspaper delivers the papers once a year during Carrier Appreciation Week. Same for the publishers, sales people and upper management: David Black, Rick O’Conner, everyone does it. There are pictures of them in the papers every year with a carrier bag slung over their shoulder.
    Editors working in small newsrooms surely put up with some shit (under staffing, unpaid overtime, etc.). But of all things this editor could have put her job on the line for, I just can’t believe she chose to take a stand against delivering a few newspapers.

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