Browne: Sue our oppressors

Robin Browne

Small claims, big results: the power of suing our oppressors

Of all the tools Black employees can use to battle the discrimination they face in their federal government jobs small claims court is, by far, the most powerful. There are several reasons for this but the simplest is: when people discriminate against Black people – because we’re Black – they break human rights laws and/or codes and that often means we can sue them. Small claims is also much cheaper and faster than a full trial and includes a mandatory, confidential settlement conference that brings the two parties together with a judge to find a solution and, hopefully, avoid a trial.

Filing a small claims suit in Ontario cost about $100 and can be done online. Once you file your suit, and serve the papers on the defendant (i.e. delivers the papers to them physically, which you can do yourself or hire a bailiff to do for around $100), the defendant has 20 calendar days to respond or they can be found guilty and be required to pay you the amount you’re suing them for. The maximum amount is $35,000.

If they don’t file a defence, you can have them found “in default” which can lead to you having the right to collect your money using a collection agency or even garnishing their wages from their employer. If they file a defence the next step is a mandatory settlement conference that, as mentioned above, brings the two parties together with a judge to find a solution and, hopefully, avoid a trial.

The settlement conference is key to the power of small claims court as it gives the defendant a clear choice: settle, pay you and keep it all confidential or go to trial which will be much more expensive and lengthy, where they’re likely to lose because they broke laws and where everything they did will be made public. Given that choice, most will pay and, if they don’t, you can always take them to trial or drop the suit.

An employee I worked with sued the investigator her department hired to back up some bogus claims against her with an equally bogus report. The investigator got a lawyer to send her a letter saying her suit was “without merit” and threatening to sue her for lots of money if she didn’t drop it. When she ignored the threat, the investigator filed a defence and was then required to attend the mandatory settlement conference which he did with two lawyers. The employee attended by herself. She had sued the investigator for around $7000. When the judge asked her what it would take to settle, she realized she hadn’t really thought about it because it wasn’t about money for her, it was about principle. She blurted out, “$2000”. After it was all over the investigator agreed to pay her $2000.

Since you must physically deliver, or have delivered, your claim documents to the defendant, you must know either their work or home address. With many people working from home during COVID, another likely small claims cost is paying someone to find the address of the person you want sue. I have used a private detective agency twice, for $687 each time. Always include costs like this and hiring a bailiff in the amount for which you’re suing.

Black people across Canada could start making the legal system work for us instead of against us, as it too often does, by suing our oppressors and investing our winnings towards home ownership. We could then teach other folks in our communities to do the same.

Call it the courthouse to our house pipeline.

Now, that would be power.

Source: The True North

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