Human Rights Office

Queen's University
Search Type
Human Rights Office
Human Rights Office

Christie v. Trent University, 2015 HRTO 937 (CanLII)

Summary:

In 2011, the History department at Trent University posted a job advertisement for an Assistant Professor with a specialization or focus on “the history of French Canada and Quebec.” The applicant in this case, Dr. Christie, applied for this position but was not offered an interview. Dr. Christie believed that she was qualified for the position and was discriminated against, contrary to the Human Rights Code, in relation to place of origin, ethnic origin and age. Dr. Christie is a bilingual Anglophone and she alleges that she was not interviewed because she is not French Canadian or Quebecoise and because her first language was not French. In addition, Dr. Christie alleged that those who were interviewed were chosen because they were or were perceived to be from Quebec and Francophone. Dr. Christie further alleges that the individuals who were chosen for interview were or were perceived to be significantly younger. In this case, it was found that six members of the selection committee (Drs. Andriewsky, Struthers, Anastakis, Palmer, Sangster and Miron) decided not to include Dr. Christie on their interview short lists because of a perceived lack of expertise in the area French Canadian and Quebec history. While members of the selection committee did feel that Dr. Christie was a strong “Canadianist” or Canadian scholar, they did not feel that she possessed an expertise in the area of French Canadian and Quebec History. This decision was made based on a review of Dr. Christie’s CV and the publications listed within the CV. In this case, it was found that three other members of the selection committee, Drs. Wright, Stapelton and Walden used criteria in addition to Dr. Christie’s  publications that were listed in her CV, to determine that the applicant was not an expert in French Canada and Quebec history. In relation to both Drs. Wright and Stapelton it was found that this additional criteria did not create a distinction based on any of the alleged grounds cited in the application. With respect to Dr. Walden, it was found that his criteria created a distinction based on place of origin and ancestry, but that this criteria was never articulated to the other members of the committee, nor applied by them, and had no influence on the majority’s decision not to offer the applicant an interview. In this case it was found that none of the selection committee members discriminated against the applicant in relation to age. Based on these findings, the case was dismissed.

Question(s) to be Determined:

  1. Was the applicant, Dr. Christie, discriminated against in relation to place or origin and ethnic origin, when she was not offered an interview for a tenure-track position in the History department at Trent University?
  1. Was the applicant, Dr. Christie, discriminated against in relation to age, when she was not offered an interview for a tenure-track position in the History department at Trent University?

Findings:

1.    Was the applicant, Dr. Christie, discriminated against in relation to place or origin and ethnic origin, when she was not offered an interview for a tenure-track position in the History department at Trent University?

NO

2.    Was the applicant, Dr. Christie, discriminated against in relation to age, when she was not offered an interview for a tenure-track position in the History department at Trent University?

NO

Reasoning:

1. In this case it was found that the majority of selection committee members (six faculty) “excluded the applicant for the reason that she did not demonstrate in her application the required expertise. I find that these members of the committee essentially formulated their opinions that the applicant was not an expert on French Canada and Quebec history on the basis of her application for the position, particularly her cv which indicated that her publications did not focus on French Canada and Quebec” (para 56).

Only in the case of Dr. Walden was it found that the applicant was discriminated on grounds contrary to the Code. In this case it was found that Dr. Walden’s criteria were not bona fide, or reasonably necessary for the position. “While Dr. Walden testified that he did not believe that he discriminated against candidates contrary to the Code, I find that he applied criteria that created a distinction on the basis of Code grounds. Dr. Walden’s preference for candidates whose first or dominant language is French, and who grew up or lived a substantial time in Quebec, creates a distinction with respect to people whose place of origin is Ontario, where English is the dominant language, like the applicant’s, and with respect to people whose ancestry is not French like the applicant’s is not” (para 135).

In dismissing this case it was stated; “while the applicant’s ancestry and place of origin were factors in Dr. Walden’s decision, and while I allow for the possibility that he may have included the applicant on his personal list had he not applied those factors, I find that the respondent University did not discriminate against the applicant. I say this because Dr. Walden was only one of nine members on the committee representing the respondent, and the other eight members clearly decided not to recommend that the applicant be offered an interview, let alone the position, for reasons which were not related to alleged Code grounds. The disadvantage to the applicant occurred, but it did so for reasons unrelated to the Code. The applicant has therefore not established on a balance of probabilities that the respondent discriminated against her” (para 141).

2. After interviewing each of the selection committee members, it was determined that age was not a factor used in deciding not to interview Dr. Christie.

Dr. Sangster - “with respect to the age of the candidates, Dr. Sangster testified that she knew when they obtained their degrees, but did not know what ages they were. She stated that people get their PhD’s at all ages, and go to school at all ages, so that she has observed that there appears to be a large range of ages of students doing graduate work. When questioned by the applicant’s counsel, Dr. Sangster testified that she looked at the full body of work of a candidate, including the applicant’s recent work, to determine the focus of research” (para 35).

Dr. Palmer – “testified that he did not know the ages of the candidates, and saw no point in trying to guess on the basis of when they obtained degrees. He did not make any assumptions about their ages. He was looking for a historian of Quebec and French Canada, someone with a demonstrated expertise in the field, and he “didn’t pay attention to those other issues” (para 42).

Dr. Anastakis – “testified that he did not think of how old the applicant or the other candidates were when reviewing their applications to decide who to put on his personal list, and he did not even consider when the candidates obtained their PhD’s. He said that he was simply reviewing who was a specialist in Quebec or French Canada history” (para 51).

In this case further insight was provided in relation to seemingly neutral factors which might have adversely impacted the applicant because of age.

“For example, while Dr. Miron was not examined on whether she considered a candidate’s age in making her selections of candidates to interview, she did testify, like some of the other professors, that the position was an entry-level position. She testified that she was looking for a candidate’s potential to be a successful academic. Similarly, Dr. Sangster testified that she was looking for the pace of publication more than the quantity of publications. This was a theme discussed by a few of the professors in their evidence. They felt that it was appropriate to factor in how many years candidates had to write and publish since obtaining their doctorates, and to measure their publication records in that context. I find that such a method of assessment was appropriate given that the competition was for a junior entry-level position. Such a method does not adversely affect old candidates on the basis of age, and it assures that young candidates are not adversely affected either” (para 67).