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Nanaimo ordered to pay $640,000 to former CFO in discrimination case

Former Nanaimo chief financial officer Victor Mema is shown in an undated file photo. (CTV News) Former Nanaimo chief financial officer Victor Mema is shown in an undated file photo. (CTV News)
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A former chief financial officer for the City of Nanaimo, who racked up thousands of dollars in personal debt on a municipal credit card, has been awarded more than $640,000 in damages after the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal ruled he was fired due to anti-Black discrimination.

The Aug. 3 decision came following 19 days of hearings featuring 13 witnesses and hundreds of pages of evidence submitted by lawyers for the city and for Victor Mema, the former CFO who was terminated in May 2018.

Mema was fired by the city after an official misconduct report and an audit of credit card expenses alleged that he had charged more than $14,000 in personal expenses to his corporate credit card, including a $1,200 charge from a resort in Cancun, Mexico, according to testimony.

In his complaint to the tribunal, Mema argued the credit-card agreement with the city was open to interpretation about what constituted a personal or professional expense, and said the use of corporate credit cards for personal expenses was widespread among city staff.

He also alleged that the misconduct report filed against him by a senior accountant at the city was "a pretext to get rid of all Black Africans employed at the city."

The City of Nanaimo denied discriminating against Mema, arguing he had engaged in misconduct that "constituted a failure by him as a fiduciary," and that his termination was based solely on that misconduct.

However, tribunal chair Emily Ohler found that while Mema "certainly made poor decisions regarding his use of the [credit card], understandably raising concerns, the city's decisions to suspend and terminate his employment were discriminatory."

Ohler noted that the misconduct report "was inflected with racial bias and stereotype – likely unconscious – which ran through each of the key points of the report" and led to Mema's termination.

"I am satisfied on a balance of probabilities that – however subconsciously – pernicious stereotypes of a Black man as less honest or trustworthy factored into the misconduct report," Ohler found.

In a statement late Tuesday afternoon, Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said the decision was "not what we expected," adding "we do not agree with the characterization of staff" in the decision.

"It is our view that individuals on staff who came forward to disclose information regarding serious matters did so in good faith with the best interests of Nanaimo's citizens in mind," Krog said.

"The City of Nanaimo is committed to providing a safe and inclusive workplace for all employees. We will not make any further comments at this time."

The tribunal ordered the city to pay Mema $583,413.40 in lost wages; $50,000 for injury to his dignity, feelings and self-respect; and $10,150.04 for expenses resulting from the city's contravention of his rights, for a total of $643,563.44 plus interest until the award is paid in full.

Krog said the city is still reviewing the 107-page tribunal decision and "will determine our next steps after consulting and obtaining advice."

The tribunal's decision comes one month after the B.C. Supreme Court tossed out Mema's wrongful dismissal suit against the city.

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