CRARR TO ASSIST ANTHROPOLOGY PROFESSOR IN SYSTEMIC DISCRIMINATION CASE AGAINST CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY
Montreal, February 24, 2015 — CRARR’s intervention in a civil rights case has led the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission to decide this month to investigate a professor’s complaint of discrimination in employment at Concordia University.
The case involves allegations by Dr. Sima Aprahamian of systemic discrimination in employment based on a combination of gender, ethnicity and age. Prior to losing her job in 2013, Dr. Aprahamian continuously taught and conducted research at the University since 1987. During this period, she held temporary 36-month full-time employment contracts (known as “Limited Term Appointment,” or LTA) as Assistant Professor of Anthropology, at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
In 2012, her application for a tenured position with the Department was rejected. A younger white male was hired instead. Besides being rejected for a permanent position, Dr. Aprahamian’s temporary employment contract ended on May 31, 2013. Due to restrictive clauses in the University’s collective agreements, she could therefore no longer renew her temporary teaching contracts.
The courses which she used to teach were posted for a new LTA position in Spring 2013. However, she could not apply to teach these courses because LTA professors have to wait 24 months to apply for their next LTA position once they conclude 36 months of an LTA-ship. This restrictive clause is explicitly stipulated in the Concordia University Faculty Association (CUFA) collective agreement for full-time employees.
In addition, as of May 2013, Dr. Aprahamian could also not have applied to teach as a part-time professor, due to the collective agreement of Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA), because she was still an LTA and a member of CUFA.
What complicates her case even more is that she had lost her seniority points with CUPFA when she was forced in Spring 2012 to take her third year of a LTA-ship under CUFA, as the courses she was teaching at the time were posted for a new LTA-ship. When she applied for the new LTA-ship, she was told by CUFA and by the Department Chair that her application would be considered a renewal, even though the deadline for renewal of LTA-ships had passed. She was therefore left in a vacuum.
In other words, because of her CUFA union rules, she could apply neither for CUPFA positions nor for CUFA positions, while external candidates could.
Dr. Aprahamian found herself not only discriminated against in the permanent position hiring process but also unemployed after 26 years of devoted service to Concordia University due to restrictive clauses in the collective agreements. Like Dr. Aprahamian, the majority of the temporary workers, who find themselves subjected to these restrictive clauses in both unions’ collective agreements, are women and other minorities who, as a result, face diminished and restricted employment mobility in the University.
She filed the complaint with the Human Rights Commission in January 2013. Mediation took place last summer but the parties failed to reach a settlement.
In its intervention to support Dr. Aprahamian, CRARR submits that the essential nature of her discrimination complaint is not about the university’s application of the two collective agreements, but about the CUFA and CUPFA collective agreements themselves as negotiated with Concordia along with its unfair hiring practices. On the surface, these collective agreements apply equally to every one without discrimination, but in practice they operate with a disparate impact on the employment situation of women and minorities who make up an important number of LTAs within CUFA.
Meanwhile, candidates from outside the university can apply without these union constraints; in fact, recent hires in the Department tended to be white male candidates coming from outside Concordia.
CRARR’s intervention prevented the Human Rights Commission from closing the case due to the latter’s incorrect analysis of Dr. Aprahamian’s original complaint. On the basis of CRARR’s submission about the essentially systemic nature of the problem, the Commission has decided to pursue the case, which may involve lengthy litigation before the courts and very likely, court-ordered structural changes to the university’s employment system.
“Systemic racism or sexism in employment is one of the most complex discrimination cases because it involves factual and legal analyses that are different from those normally applicable to direct or intentional discrimination,” said CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi.
“What makes Dr. Aprahamian’s case more compelling is the fact that after years of devoted teaching at Concordia, she ends with neither employment nor seniority at this stage in her life, and that’s fundamentally unfair, ” Mr. Niemi said.
Under Quebec's mandatory employment equity legislation, all universities, colleges and school boards must undertake measures to prevent discrimination in employment and ensure the fair representation of ethnic minorities, visible minorities, women and Aboriginal peoples in all job categories.