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Woman files human rights complaint after getting laid off while on mat leave

Last Updated Mar 2, 2016 at 3:40 pm EDT

Gilary Massa, with her husband and daughter. Massa has filed a human rights complaint against the Ryerson Students' Union.

A Toronto woman is fiercely fighting to get her job back after being laid off three months into her maternity leave.

Gilary Massa has filed a human rights complaint against her employer, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), on grounds of gender, pregnancy and family status discrimination for eliminating her position while she was away taking care of her newborn daughter.

Massa hopes her case will present a cautionary tale for all employers that marginalizing women for any reason is not acceptable.

“I have a daughter that I hope will grow up in a country and province that will allow her to make choices about her reproduction and her career without having to compromise one or the other,” she said.

Massa’s lawyer, Saron Gebresellassi, said discrimination in the workplace is almost never blatant.

“It’s very, very common to cloak discrimination under the banner of restructuring or reorganization so it’s not surprising,” Gebresellassi said.

Massa was laid off by the RSU in December 2015, three months after giving birth and starting maternity leave in September. Massa was also on extended leave prior to that, from late April to August, which means she never directly worked with the five current student executives who started their terms in May.

“It’s very, very common to cloak discrimination under the banner of restructuring or reorganization so it’s not surprising” – Saron Gebresellassi

Massa’s unionized position was deemed redundant by an external review of the organization done by a third party from Western University in the summer.

Outgoing RSU president Andrea Bartlett said her executive slate walked into an organization that had severely mismanaged student funds and immediate change was necessary.

Bartlett said the move was not about anyone involved, but about the financial health of the organization. She understands why some people are frustrated with the decision, but said it will ultimately benefit the organization long-term.

“I see a lot of articles that paint me as a heartless business student, but the whole reason I ran in elections is because I care about students, I care about people,” she said. Bartlett is a business student majoring in human resources.

While it is illegal to fire an employee for taking leave, an organization does maintain the right to eliminate a position if it is unnecessary. An employer is not required to reinstate an employee if the dismissal is backed by legitimate reasons that are completely unrelated to the employee taking leave, according to the Employment Standards Act.

Massa has been working for the organization as the Executive Director of Communications and Outreach since 2009 and was not given any formal notice of the organization’s restructuring while on leave. She was also not offered a secondary position at the RSU following her layoff.

In October, the RSU posted an opening for a new non-unionized General Manager position, which one of Bartlett’s former colleagues was ultimately hired for in December.

The Human Rights Commission states: “Where possible, employers should make sure that women who are away from work due to pregnancy-related leaves are informed about major developments and workplace opportunities.”

Currently Massa is planning out her year one step at a time, but she hopes to stay home with her daughter until September to bond if her finances allow her to.

Editor’s note: Gilary Massa is a relative of a CityNews reporter, but that reporter did not participate in the discovery and reporting of this story.