Taxpayers must wait before they learn how much public money has been poured into an enduring human-rights battle involving the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation.
The provincial Progressive Conservatives this summer were denied a freedom-of-information request for the disclosure of the cost of legal fees associated with the disagreement between liquor corporation worker Pearl Kelly and her employer.
The 44-year-old Pictou County woman had been discriminated on the job, based on her gender and disability, a human-rights board of inquiry ruled in March. Kelly filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in 2009. She wonders how much cash the NSLC has spent fighting her case since.
A July 3 letter to the PC caucus office in Halifax from Jennifer Gray, the information and privacy administrator with the liquor corporation, said the legal bill’s release will have to wait for the end of a court case involving Kelly and her government employer.The NSLC is challenging the board of inquiry’s decision, with a hearing set for December 1 at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. “When the litigation is finally concluded,” says Gray’s letter to the Tories, “we would be prepared to provide the aggregate legal fees spent by the NSLC in connection with this matter.”
Grounds for appeal filed by the province include almost a dozen alleged errors in law. The liquor corporation wants the court to nullify Kelly’s human-rights victory. She said recently her ordeal has gone on long enough and it’s time Nova Scotians were told how much it’s been costing.
“The NSLC is a government business covered by the laws and legislature of the province, and therefore there should be transparency with those funds,” Kelly says in an email.
Tory finance critic Tim Houston, the MLA who represents the electoral district of Pictou East, where Kelly lives, says “time and time again the [liquor corporation] continues to...put up roadblocks in front of her. I would be surprised if the NSLC’s legal bill so far is not into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
A spokesman with the liquor corporation declined comment.
Kelly, who was earning $65,000 a year when she last worked, has said she was subjected to sexist comments and passed over for a promotion because of her gender. She’s seeking unspecified damages and hopes to return to work at the liquor corporation.
The decision from the board of inquiry’s adjudicator, lawyer Lynn Connors, doesn’t include an award made to Kelly. The parties would need to meet to finalize terms of a remedy. Kelly, a married mother of three, must also obtain her doctor’s OK before going back on the job.
Those tasks are on hold, though, because the NSLC is trying to kill Connors’ ruling. Her judgment said Kelly had been a victim of discrimination based on sexism in her male-dominated work environment, and due to an anxiety disorder linked to stress.
The board of inquiry related to Kelly’s complaint—public hearings with sworn testimony and cross-examination—began in July 2013 in Stellarton. Among other things, the liquor corporation’s appeal notice, filed with the province’s top court in April, alleges Connors erred “by finding that Ms. Kelly’s [job] performance appraisal in 2006-2007 constituted discrimination on the basis of her sex.”
Asked if she’d do anything differently if she had to go through the complaint process again, Kelly says no.
“I followed the process that exists,” she says. “Hopefully, this will pave the road for others with gender and disability issues so everyone is treated fairly and respectfully in the workplace.”