B.C. concrete company held responsible for employee's racist slurs against co-worker

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has awarded a Metro Vancouver man $2,500 for racial discrimination he experienced at work. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press - image credit)
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has awarded a Metro Vancouver man $2,500 for racial discrimination he experienced at work. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press - image credit)

A Metro Vancouver concrete company and one of its workers have been ordered to pay damages to a former employee who was subjected to racist slurs on the job.

A carpenter who identifies as Black and Mayan was called the Spanish words for monkey and ape on two occasions while he was working at Whitewater Concrete, based in Coquitlam, B.C., according to a recent decision from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

"Calling a Black person a monkey or an ape resorts to and reinforces the stereotype that Black people are subhuman and not equal to others," tribunal member Amber Prince wrote in the decision.

"This stereotype is especially harmful because it has been exploited by Europeans for centuries to justify colonial rule over people deemed as 'primitive,' less 'civilized,' and therefore less human."

Prince wrote that the company and Whitewater employee Nicolas Pacheco were jointly liable for $2,500 plus interest for injuries to Raul Martinez Johnson's dignity, feelings and self-respect.

However, the tribunal dismissed Martinez Johnson's allegation that the company had failed to address his complaints of harassment, forcing him to quit his job.

Prince found that Whitewater took reasonable steps to investigate and address Martinez Johnson's complaints about Pacheco and other co-workers when they were reported.

CBC has reached out to Whitewater for comment.

'Embarrassed, mocked and disrespected'

According to the decision, Pacheco admitted to calling Martinez Johnson "mono," the Spanish word for monkey, and "simio," the Spanish word for ape, "a few times" at work in 2019. Other employees recalled him saying those words as well.

Martinez Johnson told the tribunal that "being called a monkey and ape made him feel embarrassed, mocked and disrespected," the decision says.

Pacheco testified that those words weren't meant to have a racial connotation, and he instead intended to imply that Martinez Johnson was "careless."

But Prince said she received no evidence suggesting "mono" and "simio" were shorthand for "careless" in Spanish, and the Spanish language interpreter who assisted with the hearings said those words are not commonly understood to have that meaning.

Prince also pointed out that during a WorkSafeBC investigation, Pacheco had a different explanation, saying he only used those words when he was "joking" at work.

Despite Prince's finding that Martinez Johnson was subjected to slurs on two occasions, amounting to discrimination on the basis of race, colour and ancestry, she dismissed several other allegations of racism involving additional Whitewater employees.

Prince noted that Martinez Johnson had made some of his own "offensive comments" to Pacheco and other co-workers, but none were racial slurs.