TORONTO, July 11, 2016 /CNW/ - Legal Aid Ontario is dodging its obligations to maintain pay equity, according to a complaint filed by female lawyers who work at the government agency. The female lawyers want to force LAO to evaluate its staff lawyers under a gender-neutral job evaluation system and make any required pay equity adjustments.
"The focus of my job is on achieving justice for my clients. But ironically, Legal Aid Staff Lawyers like myself are struggling to achieve workplace justice for ourselves," said Kendall Yamagishi, who is among the complainants. "Legal Aid Ontario has been blocking us every step of the way. We are asking Premier Kathleen Wynne and Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, who oversee Legal Aid Ontario, to step in."
Until recently, Legal Aid Ontario insisted that the job titled Staff Lawyer was gender neutral. But in a recent affidavit former LAO CEO Robert Ward bragged that "two-thirds" of the agency's lawyers are women. Not only are the staff lawyers predominantly women but they are also one of the most racially diverse groups of public sector lawyers in the province.
"Legal Aid can't have it both ways — they can't celebrate the diversity of their workforce one day and then deny those same workers their legal protections against discrimination the next," said Dana Suvagau, another of the complainants.
But this kind of behaviour from LAO has become commonplace over the past three years as Legal Aid staff lawyers have sought the right to form a union, just as other public sector lawyers have done through the Ontario Crown Attorneys Association and the Association of Law Officers of the Crown.
"The only difference between LAO lawyers and these other public sector lawyers is at Legal Aid the lawyers are mostly women and disproportionately people of colour," said Linh Le, the third complainant. "There's no question: we feel the discrimination."
Due to archaic Ontario labour laws enacted by the Harris Government and maintained by the Wynne Government, lawyers and other professionals are prohibited from bargaining with their employers under labour legislation. While the Supreme Court last year struck down a similarly anti-democratic law that prevented RCMP officers from unionizing, the Ontario government and LAO are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting to deny the same rights to Legal Aid lawyers.
Significantly, if LAO lawyers were permitted to unionize, they would be entitled to information necessary to enforce the protections they have under pay equity legislation, including disclosure about the extent of the employer's efforts to maintain pay equity and of the gender of the employees in each job class
"Premier Wynne made a big deal out of increasing the number of women in her cabinet but this is really where it counts," said Le. "We need a union because that's the only way LAO will treat us fairly. As women, we deserve fairness."
SOURCE The Society of Energy Professionals
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