A former Leon’s furniture employee is alleging racial discrimination after he says a statue was lynched in effigy at a store in Dartmouth, N.S.
Elsworth Bottomley complained to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission that a number of racial incidents occurred during his two years working at the store.
Bottomley, who is black, said he was called the N-word and a fellow driver sent him a text message made denigrating comments about the intelligence of black people.
“Just referring to me as not being intelligent, very stupid because of my colour. Things like that,” he said.
Bottomley also said a Leon's manager told him he worried about sending two black delivery drivers to a job because that would intimidate customers.
Finally, Bottomley told the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission that someone hung a black statue in a window at the store. The commission's lawyer, Lisa Teryl, called it a "lynching effigy."
The 45-centimetre-high statue, which Leon’s offers for sale, was hung by the neck with tape.
"They had a statue of a black man hanging in the window with tape around its neck, hanging from the ceiling as a noose and tie as they would lynch back in slavery days,” he said.
Its eyes were painted white in what Teryl calls “blackface” style.
Bottomley said that was the last straw, and he left Leon's after taking pictures of the statue.
In a press release issued on Wednesday, Leon's said two employees were fired over the incident.
They called the incident offense and apologized to anyone who saw the effigy. Leon's said they've offered diversity and sensitivity training in recent weeks.
2nd allegation of racism at same store
Bottomley’s story emerges as a human rights board of inquiry investigates another alleged case of racial discrimination at the same store. Garnetta Cromwell, also black, alleges a Leon’s manager referred to her employee evaluation as a lynching.
The board is considering whether Bottomley's evidence should be admissible in Cromwell’s case as relevant information.
The lawyer for Leon's Furniture Ltd. said Bottomley's evidence is irrelevant to Cromwell's human rights complaint. Lisa Gallivan said Cromwell's employment was from 2004 to 2008, and Bottomley's allegations fall outside this time frame.
She argued that introducing Bottomley's unsubstantiated complaint at the last minute is an attempt to sensationalize the process, and that Bottomley's complaint is a separate matter.
Teryl argued Bottomley's story is relevant because it speaks to how Leon's managers continue to respond to racial issues in the workplace.
“Because of the way management dealt with it. Because of the way it made him feel as well as it made me feel. Because it was a very unhealthy environment for anybody to work in. It's almost like it's a psychological harassment," she said.
Gallivan said that the introduction of Bottomley’s evidence at Cromwell's hearing calls into question whether Leon's can receive a fair hearing from the commission.
Leon's Furniture dropped a motion to discuss Bottomley's evidence in secret after the move was contested by CBC News and the Halifax Chronicle Herald newspaper.
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