A construction worker who identifies as having Mayan and Black heritage has been awarded $2,500 by the BC Human Rights Tribunal for racial slurs he faced while on the job.
Raul Martinez Johnson was working for Whitewater Concrete, a Coquitlam concrete forming company, in 2019 when he was called a monkey and an ape in Spanish by a co-worker, according to evidence provided in a recent tribunal decision posted online.
Originally from Honduras, Martinez Johnson was a carpenter working with a team on a high-rise building.
He told the tribunal that a colleague called him a “mono” or “simio” (monkey or ape) at work instead of calling him by his name — comments that made him feel "little" and "like a dog," and also contravened the BC Human Rights Code.
Evidence provided by co-workers, and substantiated by an interpreter, agreed that the terms were used as an insult, not as a joke or simply to indicate Martinez Johnson was "careless."
Racial slurs "dehumanize" victims
In the decision, tribunal member Amber Prince said calling a person a monkey or an ape is often a way to "dehumanize" them.
"Calling a Black person a monkey or an ape resorts to and reinforces the stereotype that Black people are subhuman and not equal to others," Prince states.
"This stereotype is especially harmful because it has been exploited by Europeans for centuries to justify colonial rule over people deemed as 'primitive,' less 'civilized,' and therefore less human.
"This a stereotype that has functioned as a rationale for Black slavery and the seizure of Indigenous land," she wrote.
Prince stated that while Martinez Johnson was an "active participant in much of the conflict," stemming over disagreements on how to do the job, there was no exchange of racial slurs and that comments directed toward him had a "particular harmful impact."
"I accept his evidence that being called a monkey and an ape made him feel embarrassed, mocked and disrespected. The slurs were an inherent affront to his dignity and intersecting identities," the tribunal decision states.
Whitewater and Nicholas Pacheco are jointly responsible for paying compensation plus interest to Martinez Johnson for the racial slurs.
However, the tribunal dismissed Martinez Johnson's claim that the company failed to take action on his complaints and that he was "constructively dismissed" when he quit his job.
Bullying and harassment policy provided
Information provided during the hearing showed the company responded to Martinez Johnson's original complaints about racial slurs in September, during a meeting in which grievances were aired, and later conducted an investigation following a further dispute.
On Nov.4, a supervisor was called to a heated argument on the 18th floor of a high-rise building, in which Martinez Johnson claimed he was assaulted when "one of the guys" put their hands on his chest.
"All of the witnesses, except Mr. Martinez Johnson, confirmed that yelling took place but no physical touching," the tribunal states.
A supervisor offered to separate the workers, and have Martinez Johnson work on another project; however, he left the job site.
Whitewater held an investigation and reviewed its bullying and harassment policy with staff, but Martinez Johnson had left the company by then.
Still, the tribunal said the company properly followed up the complaints and "took reasonable steps to ensure that Mr. Martinez Johnson could return to a safe and non-discriminatory workplace."