A former Hardbite potato chips production worker has lodged a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal claiming she was discriminated against based on her race, colour, place of origin and ancestry.
Christine Lado, who is black, claims her supervisor gave South Asian employees preferential treatment and that she was fired after she complained about it.
Hardbite’s production facility is in Surrey, at 4945 184th Street.
Tribunal member Devyn Cousineau presided over the case, indexed as Lado v. Hardbite Chips. The respondents – identified as Naturally Homegrown Foods Ltd. operating as Hardbite Chips and Umer Shahid and Mindy Mudhar – deny Lado’s claims of discrimination and say she was fired because of “documented poor performance,” Cousineau noted in her July 3 reasons for decision.
The respondents asked the tribunal to dismiss Lado’s complaint entirely. Cousineau dismissed her complaint against Mudhar, who is the company’s operations manager, but decided the complaint against her former supervisor Shahid will be scheduled for a hearing.
“I am not persuaded that Ms. Lado’s complaint has no reasonable prospect of success,” Cousineau found. “In reaching this conclusion, I do not make any prediction about the likelihood that she will ultimately succeed in proving that she was discriminated against. However, at this stage, based on all of the information before me, she has raised her complaint out of the realm of conjecture.”
Lado is originally from South Sudan and began working for Hardbite Chips on March 26, 2018. She told the tribunal she was the only black person working for the company and alleges Shahid “singled her out for public criticism and unfair scrutiny,” Cousineau noted.
The respondents claim management spoke to Lado repeatedly about her “poor” performance. She was fired six days after allegedly making a mistake while packing on Sept. 21, 2018.
“Ms. Lado’s account of her employment is quite different,” Cousineau wrote. “She says that the workplace culture favoured workers who were South Asian in origin. She says that her supervisor, Mr. Shahid, repeatedly singled her out for criticism in circumstances where South Asian workers would not be censured for the same conduct.”
Lado filed her human rights complaint on Nov. 2, 2018.
Lado claimed Shahid was “very friendly” with her South Asian co-workers and that they were permitted to take longer breaks.
“She says that Mr. Shahid would speak Punjabi with workers, a language she does not understand, in a manner that led her to believe they were laughing at her,” Cousineau noted. “She says Mr. Shahid was not friendly with her.”
Lado claimed that she asked Shahid if he hated her because she’s black, but he didn’t respond and just walked away. Shahid denies that Lado said anything of the sort to him, or that he in any way gave preferential treatment to workers based on their race or place of origin.
On Sept. 13, 2018, the tribunal heard, the company sought anonymous feedback from staff and Lado said that after this meeting she voiced her concerns to the director of finance. “She says that she and another worker, who was white, reported that they felt they were being discriminated against because of their colour,” Cousineau noted. “The respondents say that there is no record that Ms. Lado raised these concerns in this meeting.”
Lado’s former co-worker Sue Brayson, who is white, told the tribunal that she observed Shahid single out Lado for “nasty” public criticism and that he used a timer to time her and Lado’s performance but she did not observe him doing so with the other employees.
She says Shahid would allow Punjabi and South Asians workers to take longer breaks “without consequence but would chastise her and Ms. Lado if they were a couple minutes late,” Cousineau noted in her reasons for decision.
As far as Mudhar’s role in all of this, Cousineau noted she was named as a respondent because she was involved in Lado’s firing and it appears she was acting on information provided by Shahid.
“I do not find that the allegations against Ms. Mudhar raise a level of individual culpability or would otherwise support proceeding against her as an individual,” she decided. “The case against Ms. Mudhar is dismissed.”
“Mr. Shahid’s role in the complaint is different,” she continued. “Ms. Lado alleges that he deliberately targeted her for mistreatment, criticism and dismissal based on her race. If that is true, it could not be said that this conduct fell within the proper scope of his employment duties.”
None of the aforementioned claims have yet been proven or disproven before the tribunal.