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Jessica Dempsey awaits result of discrimination complaint

After a year, a decision from the Human Rights Commission is imminent

Photo by Natasha MacDonald-Dupuis
Photo by Natasha MacDonald-Dupuis

After a year of waiting, Jessica Dempsey will find out whether her case against campus food service provider Aramark will be dismissed or put to trial.

If the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission believes Jessica’s human rights were violated, it could refer her complaint to a Nova Scotia Board of Inquiry. The case could land Dalhousie and Aramark in hot water.

Dempsey, a former management student, filed a complaint last October after two Aramark employees allegedly refused to serve her and addressed her by her former name.

“An employee even asked me if my boobs were real,” says Dempsey.

The NSHRC rendered a decision about Dempsey’s discrimination case on Sept. 18, but it could take up to a week before she receives the verdict in the mail.

“If they dismiss this case, what that tells me is that trans people have no rights in the Province of Nova Scotia,” says Dempsey.

Though Dalhousie’s Office of Human Rights has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, they allegedly ignored Dempsey’s repeated complaints.

After the story of her complaint against Aramark aired on CBC News, Dalhousie held a round table discussion with Dal Legal Aid and Aramark behind closed doors.

“Why did Dalhousie get involved with Aramark?” says Dempsey. “When I asked for help, they told me to leave.”

Dempsey and a human rights investigator met last June to discuss her case at a resolution conference. The two Aramark employees accused of harassment were present, along with five other company representatives.

Dempsey recalls feeling intimidated and humiliated, saying the employees used her former name and openly discussed her sexuality, despite having received training. She refused the settlement.

“They wanted a full confidentiality agreement. After the meeting, the spokesperson for Aramark told me ‘I’d be hard-pressed to give you money for something someone said to you,’ ” says Dempsey.

Dalhousie’s Human Rights and Equity Adviser, Lisa DeLong, later tried to convince Dempsey to accept the offer, but to no avail.

Dempsey has since filed a second human rights complaint against Dalhousie University. She alleges she was “outed” on transcripts and class lists, and that several professors refused to use her preferred name.

Dempsey says one of her professors refused to let her speak in class.

“The topic was homelessness, and I was homeless at the time. I raised my hand four times, and he waved it down four times. Everybody else got to speak.”

Jessica says the professor later told her he did not let her speak for fear she would use his class as a “platform.”

Dempsey has since been placed on a medical leave. She spent a month and a half in a homeless shelter, developed an anxiety disorder, and lost her student loans funding.

“The situation has taken its toll on me. It’s been a long and daunting process. This is a time in my life where I finally get to be me, but I am fighting for my rights instead of enjoying my second puberty,” she says.

John Hutton, a student representative to Dalhousie’s board of governors, says Dalhousie should take additional steps to ensure the safety of transgendered students on campus.

“The majority of complaints from trans students are about professors, not other students,” says Hutton. “The problem is that Dalhousie does not give trans sensitivity training to contract faculty.”

Dempsey is holding a visibility rally in front of the DSU building on Sept. 22.

“It’s about solidarity,” she says, determined. “It’s so other trans people out there know that they are not alone.

If taken to trial, Dempsey’s case could set a precedent for transgender rights in the province. Although provincial laws vary, there is still no criminal law protecting transgendered people in Canada.

This story was written before Sept. 22., the scheduled day of Jessica’s rally.

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