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U of M lawyer rejects $227k settlement in mat leave case

|Written By Steve Morales

A University of Manitoba lawyer says the school discriminated against her because of her pregnancy, and the province’s Human Rights Council appears to agree.

A recent decision from the Manitoba HRC rejected the university’s attempt to quash the case after Peggy Damianakos rejected a six-figure settlement.

Damianakos worked for U of M for 10 years, having three kids in that time. In 2010, during her most recent maternity leave, the university merged three departments, including hers, and appointed her mat leave replacement as head of the new office.

She filed a human rights complaint alleging the school discriminated against her on the protected grounds of sex and family status.

Manitoba, like all provinces and territories has a human rights code that forbids discrimination based on certain characteristics, such as race, religion, disability, family status and gender (which includes pregnancy).

Pregnancy can present a career obstacle in some workplaces since employers are averse to hiring, promoting, or just continuing to employ a woman who may need time off for medical appointments and could take months off for paid maternity leave. The corporate “mommy track” sees diminished opportunities for women and leads some to leave the workforce.

Damianakos claims the school effectively demoted her when it promoted her replacement. The school responded it considered her for the job, but decided she wasn’t the best candidate, but offered her other opportunities. She turned them down, so the school considered her employment at an end.

It offered her $212,000 in lost wages and another $15,000 in general damages, but she rejected the offer. The school then asked an adjudicator to cancel her complaint since it considered the settlement a reasonable sum. Section 37 of the province’s Human Rights Act allows an adjudicator to judge the reasonableness of an offer and to terminate a case if the complainant rejects that reasonable amount.

The adjudicator said the offers appeared reasonable, but didn’t have enough information to make an informed ruling, so refused to quash the case.

The university is now asking for a judicial review to gauge whether the adjudicator made a mistake in her ruling. It appears both sides have dug in for a battle.

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