University of Victoria professor grieves after being removed from committee

Institution ordered to apologize for conflict accusation

After the chair of a committee at the University of Victoria found out the identity of a committee member’s husband, the professor was told to leave the board due to a “reasonable perception” of bias.
The presidential appointment committee (PAC) consisted of 20 employees, including one from each of the university’s departments, who were nominated by their departments. 
Lin Cai had worked in the department of electrical and computer engineering since 2005, and she joined the committee in early 2017. She was married to Jianping Pan, a member of the computer science department who was suspended by university president Jamie Cassels for 30 days without pay, because of “a finding of fairly serious culpability.” 
On Feb. 1, 2017, two other board members informed Julia Eastman, university secretary, they had concerns about Cai’s inclusion on the board. On Feb. 3, a meeting was set up with Cai and Eastman, as well as Carrie Andersen, associate university secretary, shortly before the first board meeting of the PAC.
Eastman asked Cai if she was married to Pan and after being told yes, Eastman told Cai she should probably resign immediately to save embarrassment during the first PAC meeting.
Instead, Cai refused and said she would attend the meeting. 
During the meeting, all new board members were asked if they could be bias-free during the entire PAC process and Cai responded yes.
After the meeting on Feb. 6, Eastman and Corbett met and again Cai was told to resign or she would be forced out. 
In removing Cai from the committee, the university acknowledged it committed prima facie discrimination, but it argued the president-selection process must be completely free of bias. 
After Cai was removed from the PAC, the University of Victoria Faculty Association (UVICFA) filed a grievance on April 3, 2017. As well, UVICFA alleged a human rights violation on the basis of marital status.
“Considering that the university’s reason for her removal was based on an antiquated stereotype that partners committed to each other through marriage cannot act independently of one another, it is the faculty association’s position that the arbitrary and discriminatory removal of Cai is not only contrary to the university’s obligations under article 13.1 and article 14.2.1, but also negligent to the university’s commitment to ensure gender equity on selection committees contained in appendix H (the equity policy),” wrote the association.
Arbitrator Arne Peltz disagreed and denied the grievance. 
However, Peltz directed the university to apologize for its initial assertions.
“Although I have found that there was a reasonable apprehension of bias justifying removal of the grievor from the PAC, it is also the case that (Cai) was wrongly accused of a conflict of interest. This was a serious error” said Peltz. 
“I recommend the university issue a letter to the grievor formally retracting the allegation and apologizing for the misstatement. Since the original letter was signed by the chair of the board of governors, the apology should be issued at the same level of authority,” said Peltz. 
The removal of Cai was not motivated “based on an antiquated stereotype that (Cai) was unable to act independently of her husband. As a result, I hold there was no breach of appendix H in this case,” said Peltz. 
“I find that the avoidance of a reasonable apprehension of bias was a bona fide occupational requirement, as argued by the university, and there was no discrimination under the Human Rights Code.”
Reference: University of Victoria and University of Victoria Faculty Association. Arne Peltz — arbitrator. Thomas Roper for the employer. Allan Black for the employee. Oct. 25, 2018. 2018 CarswellBC 2933

Latest stories