layout: post title: Calgary woman still struggling through 19-year HR complaint categories:
“My life became hell,” Delorie Walsh said Monday afternoon, recounting years of humiliation and harassment at the hands of her former employer — retaliation for her filing a human rights complaint for gender discrimination.
“It was beyond stress. My self-esteem was being destroyed.”
The story of Delorie Walsh — a veritable female version of David versus Goliath — is irrefutable proof that some experiences don’t get any easier in the re-telling.
As she recounts the period of her life stretching out several years, the silver-haired 53-year-old grows increasingly shaky and upset. By the time she gets to Feb. 21, 1995 — the day she was fired by her employer of a decade — she is breaking down in tears and barely able to speak.
It isn’t the first time she’s had to share her personal story of pain before a judge and other participants in a cold Calgary hearing room.
In fact, it isn’t even the second or third time.
Nearly two decades after she first filed a complaint against her former employer with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, Walsh found herself yet again Monday having to revisit those days.
A human rights complaint in Alberta — from first filing to final resolution — takes, on average, a little over a year. At 19 years, Walsh vs. Mobil has the dubious distinction of being the longest ongoing case in its 37-year history.
Since one morning in May 1991, when Walsh made the decision after “much soul searching” to file her initial complaint against her then-employer Canadian Superior, her life has been one revolving courtroom door after another.
She has since had to testify before no less than four judges at various levels and areas of the system; her daughter Angela has gone from her terrible twos to a 21-year-old university student.
Such is life when you choose to take on one of the biggest corporations on the planet.
Back in the early 1990s, Walsh was an ambitious young woman, excited at the chance to become the first female landsman — a job that includes among its duties negotiating contracts between landowners and oil companies — for Canadian Superior Oil.
First, she kept being passed over for promotion in favour of men despite her having the right credentials; then, when she was finally given a landsman job — but with lower pay than her male counterparts, not to mention having to contend with employment conditions that weren’t applied to them.
She decided to do something about it.
“I just knew it was wrong,” she said of the situation. “If people don’t choose to stand up, nothing will ever change.”
The real trouble started when she landed that dream position. Suddenly her bosses didn’t think she was doing such a good job after all. Her supervisor told her he was going to “be in your face,” and she was on the receiving end of dismal performance reviews.
When she was fired in February 1995, she was certain it was because she’d filed that first complaint not long after moving into the landsman position.
Life has been a winding road ever since.
In 2005, a series of decisions, dismissals and appeals had it looking like her struggle would never end: Commissioner Beth Bryant found Walsh’s salary and job category were low compared to her male counterparts, but dismissed her second complaint, filed after her firing in 1995, that she suffered retaliation.
That decision was appealed to Court of Queen’s Bench, which agreed with Walsh, ruling that she was entitled to compensation for loss of income and expenses resulting from discrimination. Lawyers for ExxonMobil, or Mobil Oil Canada — which inherited the case when it took over Canadian Superior a few years ago — appealed the decision to the Alberta Court of Appeal, which again found in Walsh’s favour.
Now, the parties to the case are all back in court this week, speaking yet again before Bryant in a commission courtroom.
This time, the reason for the meeting is the issue of compensation, which now, for some reason, is back in the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission’s hands.
On Monday, a small group of supporters — including her daughter Angela and her sister Debbie Cruikshank — joined Walsh.
“This has taken a heavy toll on her,” said Cruikshank. “I think other women in the oilpatch should be thankful to her for fighting for their rights.”
“She has been a real trooper,” said Walsh’s lawyer Stephen Hope. “She’s carried on this fight, for all these years, mostly on her own.”
As for Walsh, she isn’t so sure that had she knew then what she knows now, she’d be up for facing another round on the witness stand.
“If you would have told me that 20 years later, I’d still be testifying, I would have thought ‘no way,’” she said. “But there’s no point in giving up now.”
The hearing is expected to run until the end of the week.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
Go, Delorie! @devchix should see this.