HALIFAX – A former firefighter says her 12-year battle against “systemic” gender discrimination has ended with a settlement that will see a public apology issued by the city of Halifax on Monday.
In an interview Tuesday, Liane Tessier released details of an agreement that she says comes after years of complaints about abusive and disrespectful behaviour from her male counterparts.
Tessier, who said other female firefighters have also come forward with concerns, said she hoped the settlement would signal that change is needed, especially in male-dominated professions.
“Gender-based violence is not going to stop because of this apology,” said Tessier. “But hopefully my struggle, the settlement, and the apology will put other employers on notice as well.”
Tessier said the settlement includes financial compensation and a commitment from the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency service to implement eight policy changes that she suggested.
She said they cover a range of things from keeping hiring statistics to making the workplace safer for women to speak out. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is to monitor to ensure the fire service is abiding by the policies, she said.
A city spokesman wouldn’t immediately comment on the settlement, saying the issue remains before the rights commission.
“We continue to work closely with the commission regarding next steps and will provide more details once they can be made available,” Brendan Elliott said in an email.
The 53-year-old Tessier first complained in 2005 about gender discrimination at the Herring Cove fire station.
In a 26-page statement given to The Canadian Press, Tessier alleges she was “ostracized” and was subjected to “malicious gossip” after she spoke out. The statement and its allegations are not part of the settlement and haven’t been proven in court.
She said she formally complained to management and was referred to a human relations consultant who “minimized and denied” all harassment claims.
Tessier subsequently filed a complaint with the provincial rights commission in 2007, but she said it languished in the investigation phase for almost five years before it was dismissed.
Not giving up, Tessier filed for a judicial review and in 2014 the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ordered that the complaint be re-examined by the rights commission.
The case was to have come before a public board of inquiry in October of this year.
“What’s hard about this last 12 years is that I had to speak and fight for my basic rights,” Tessier said. “And then I was getting retaliated against and had to eventually leave a job that I loved.”
Although certified as a training instructor and competing in the firefighter combat challenge for years, Tessier said she was also passed over for jobs that were given to men with less experience.
Tessier said she believes her experience has taught her about the “huge” imbalance of power that still exists in many modern workplaces and leaves many women “terrified” to speak out.
She said women who come forward are seen as “trouble-makers or too sensitive,” while men are often hailed as “heroes or game-changers.”
“There is a real double standard that is really evident and sort of infuriating,” said Tessier. “It made me crazy how I was treated so badly just because I wanted to have a better workplace for myself.”