Published On Thu Mar 31 2011
Robyn Doolittle Urban Affairs Reporter
George Berger alleged to the Ontario human rights tribunal that he had suffered harassment by Councillor Frances Nunziata, his then boss, because of his disability.
It’s likely the City of Toronto will be forced to pay a disabled man damages now that Ontario’s human rights tribunal has determined the city failed to
investigate George Berger’s allegations of discrimination and harassment.
But adjudicator Kaye Joachim found that tension between Berger and his former boss, Councillor Frances Nunziata, wasn’t related to the man’s disability
— a hereditary condition that limits his mobility.
While Nunziata’s alleged conduct toward him was “clearly rude and demeaning,” Berger himself told the city’s human rights office at the time that he did
not believe it was linked to his disability, Jochim found.
“I am not satisfied that the evidence demonstrates that there was a nexus between the applicant’s disability and the personal respondent’s conduct,” she
Nunziata did not respond to a request for comment.
“It’s a split decision,” Berger’s lawyer, Raj Anand, said of the ruling. “It finds that the city failed on the most significant items, which were to accommodate
Mr. Berger’s disability… and also its failure to take his concerns seriously and (failure) to investigate them.
“It’s likely damages will flow from that.”
Berger’s allegations stem from a series of incidents with Nunziata beginning in 2005.
Berger has accused Nunziata, now also serving as council Speaker, of making “humiliating and degrading” comments because of his disability. He further alleged that the city took inadequate steps to resolve the issue.
Berger suffers from multiple osteochondromatosis, which produces cartilage growth on bones and joints.
The city characterized the pair’s tumultuous relationship as a personality clash.
Berger alleged that Nunziata unjustly criticized his job performance, called him a liar, and was known to yell and swear at him. Berger also said he was
admonished for purchasing a wireless mouse he says was needed to accommodate his disability.
Nunziata’s lawyer, Michelle Henry, argued that even if the adjudicator believed Berger’s accusations, they don’t prove there was discrimination on the basis of disability.
Berger, who worked for former councillor Norm Gardner, left Nunziata’s office in October 2005. But the city agreed to pay him until the end of his contract
the following November.
He is seeking $140,000 from the city for other wages, plus $30,000 compensation for violating his rights.
Joachim’s decision initiates phase two of the tribunal, which will tackle whether Berger faced repercussions in trying to secure another job with the city.
A date has not been set.
A third phase will decide if damages are warranted.