pound foolish

The college is spending an awful lot on legal fees to save itself $20,000. Why? On October 14, the college appealed a Human Rights Board of Adjudication ruling that was released in May.

The college is spending an awful lot on legal fees to save itself $20,000.

Why?

On October 14, the college appealed a Human Rights Board of Adjudication ruling that was released in May.

That ruling awarded twin sisters Sarah Baker and Susan Malcolm each $10,000 in damages for slurs and abuse they endured at the institution. It also granted the two women $30,000 towards their legal fees.

That gives people an idea how much the wrangling has cost – so far, the college has probably spent a lot more than the two financially strapped women, who live together in a meagre trailer.

The college’s decision to appeal, based on a technicality, will prolong a legal process that has now spanned six years. And it will cost still more money.

So what’s the college’s goal? To preserve its good name?

It’s too late for that. The institution’s handling of these two elderly women has been a nasty business.

Initially, the the Yukon Human Rights Commission wasn’t going to take on their case.

But it was swayed by compelling evidence provided by the women, who are now in their 60s.

The college hired two lawyers to fight them, including one from Vancouver.

The years-long case involved hearings, many witnesses and reams of documents.

The collective testimony suggested college officials had tried to drum the women out of the Community Support Worker program.

They were called stupid, derided for their weight and hygiene and, at one point, instructors went to the extraordinary step of phoning their doctors for an evaluation of their physical fitness – they wanted to know if the women could run for 30 minutes.

The women were understandably stressed by all this. Just days shy of completing their last practicum, they quit the program.

After thorough investigation, the adjudicator found the college “discriminated against (the women) on the basis of physical and cognitive disabilities, or perceptions thereof, and harassed them on the basis of the perception of mental and physical disability.” It awarded the $20,000.

In a telling move, shortly after the decision came out the college tried to buy the sisters’ silence, offering to double the settlement if they didn’t talk to the media.

The sisters agreed.

But then the college reneged, and appealed the former adjudicator’s decision on the grounds their term had expired before the decision was released.

And here things get really tangled.

The decision was released in May by the new adjudicator, Joie Quarton, the former college lawyer who fought against the sisters’ claim.

But it is not clear when the decision was delivered.

Adjudication board documents suggest it was made in December, around the time Quarton took over.

But the May release gave the college grounds for appeal.

Why the six-month lag? wrote the sisters in a letter to the law society discipline committee.

And the Yukon Human Rights Commission is also questioning why it took so long to release the decision.

In short, it is a mess. And it will probably be very difficult and expensive to untangle.

And all because the college has been embarrassed, and wants to wriggle out of a $20,000 settlement.

Even if it’s successful, that loophole will not erase the decision, which found the college guilty of harassment and discrimination.

It made serious mistakes in its handling of the sisters.

And, rather than learning from those mistakes (and cutting its losses), it is appealing.

As a college, it should set a better example.

The whole affair is shameful. And the appeal is only making things worse.

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