HRM employee takes Human Rights Commission to court over bullying complaint

Lynn Matheson claims she developed a mental illness due to a ‘toxic’ work environment

A Halifax Regional Municipality employee who claimed she was bullied into depression at work, is taking the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to court after it dismissed her case.

In 2011, Lynn Matheson was working as a council constituency coordinator at city hall when she said she began feeling attacked by colleagues and one person in particular. Matheson said the abuse was subtle. She said she was teased about her allergies, and even threatened.

“I cried going to work many days,” said Matheson, who described breaking down at her doctor’s office. ‘It’s not like you had a broken arm’

Matheson said the work environment as “poison” and “toxic.”
She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and told by her doctor to not go back to work until the cause of the stress at work could be removed.

“I really had a lot of anxiety and I was very ashamed for being sick and for having a mental illness.”

The municipality wouldn’t comment on Matheson’s case. ‘If I had a physical illness it would have been different’

Matheson said her employer didn’t believe she was sick. Matheson said she was told, “well it’s not like you had a broken arm.”

“They told me straight out if I had a physical illness it would have been different.”

The municipality offered to accommodate Matheson with two job opportunities, but she said both of them failed to take her out of city hall, and away from the person who was the source of the bullying.

On medical advice, she turned down the offers.

Matheson also applied for long-term disability insurance and was denied.

An internal workplace investigation concluded Matheson was not harassed at the workplace, and found her claim to be without merit. Complaint dismissed.

After failing to find a resolution within the municipality, Matheson filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

On Sep. 21, 2016, the commission dismissed her claim, saying it was without merit. By this time, Matheson had been off work without pay for a year and a half.

Matheson’s lawyer, Barry Mason, said the decision was not explained.

“It’s two or three lines, there’s no analysis that’s provided on why the complaint was dismissed,” said Mason.

“I’m at a loss to explain to Lynn why her complaint hasn’t moved forward.”

No one from the Human Rights Commission was available for comment. Commission financially restrained?

Mason believes the commission is trying to satisfy critiques of lengthy wait times by accepting fewer cases.

“They have limited resources and they are picking and choosing which cases to move ahead with,” said Mason. “Not necessarily based on merit, but based on financial constraints that they have.”

According to numbers submitted by the province for January to December 2015, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission received 2,288 inquiries, and accepted 86 of those as complaints.
Matheson said she is seeking a judicial review, and hoping a judge will force the commission to take another look at her case.

“I haven’t just lost pay, I’ve lost pension, I’ve lost vacation, I’ve lost the job that I liked, that I was proud to do,” said Matheson.

Click here to see original article written by Stephanie vanKampen, CBC News

December 5, 2017