This story has been updated with new information and comments from RSU president Andrea Bartlett and Gilary Massa.
A human rights complaint has been filed against the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) and its executive committee members.
Gilary Massa announced Monday that she filed the complaint against the RSU after she was fired from her job as the executive director of communications while on maternity leave in December.
Until she was let go, Massa was a full-time unionized staff member and had been with the RSU for seven years. Massa is currently unemployed and a stay-at-home mother.
“This case is about the fundamental right of Canadian women (and men) to balance their desires for a career and a family without reprimand,” she said in a statement today.
The RSU faced backlash from staff and students over the firing after Natasha Campagna, who worked with RSU president Andrea Bartlett before, was hired to fill a general manager role just one day after Massa was fired. Campagna accepted the position in December, leaving her job overseeing the administrative operations of the Ryerson Commerce Society.
Bartlett defended the decision and, in a statement today, maintained that Massa’s dismissal was unrelated to her maternity leave.
“There is no question the RSU supports women’s’ rights,” said Bartlett. “It also supports cleaning up the RSU’s organizational and operational problems, which have cost students hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
In Ontario, it is legal to terminate an employee on leave so long as the termination of employment is unrelated to the leave.
According to Bartlett, Massa was offered another position in December working with students within the university, but turned it down. Massa denied this claim.
“Clearly, Ms. Massa’s statements are not about having a job – they are political,” Bartlett said.
Massa launched the complaint in December, after which RSU senior administration attempted to intervene to come to a resolution, but were unsuccessful.
Saron Gebresellassi, Massa’s lawyer, said she doesn’t think that the RSU’s reasoning for Massa’s lay off will hold up in court.
“If that was the reasoning, any employer could terminate a woman on maternity leave and cloak it under the banner of restructuring,” said Gebresellassi. “Employers can restructure, you hire staff, you can reorganize your affairs, but you have to keep that position available to a woman after she’s completed her maternity leave.”
Bartlett said the human rights complaint is redundant since Massa had already fought the layoff in a grievance procedure through her union, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 1281. A grievance procedure is often used by employers to resolve complaints made by employees.
Bartlett said that Massa has received severance money and benefits, though Massa also denies this claim.
A document obtained by The Ryersonian from Bartlett and the RSU confirms that Massa did accept severance which was paid on Dec. 11, 2015, and has been receiving maternity leave pay which will continue until March 31, 2016.
The complaint will move forward to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, where the case will be heard by a panel of experts in human rights law and the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Gebresellassi said the process of resolution with the tribunal can take six months to a year, but it could be handled much sooner if the RSU chooses to respond immediately and settle privately.
According to Gebresellassi, typical resolution in cases like this includes sensitivity training for those who have had the complaint filed against them, monetary compensation for the complainant and a possible reinstatement to her position.
Massa said she hopes that she can get her job back and that current and future RSU executives learn a lesson from this.
“In their mind, they needed to save money and they way that they could save money was to not pay for my maternity leave,” said Massa.