07/25/2013 02:59 EDT | Updated 09/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Gay former jail guard awarded $98K for harassment at Ottawa detention centre

TORONTO - A former jail guard who endured "profoundly humiliating" homophobic harassment at an Ottawa prison has been granted what a grievance board called its largest-ever award for a human rights breach.

Robert Ranger worked at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre from 1998 to 2002, when he left because he said he couldn't take the taunts and gay slurs. Eventually, he went on long-term disability, suffering from depression and anxiety attacks to this day.

The Grievance Settlement Board, which handles complaints from Ontario public servants, this week ordered the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to pay Ranger $98,000 in compensation.

It is a large amount, vice-chair Deborah Leighton said in her decision, but it is an attempt to restore Ranger's dignity.

"The harassment and discrimination that created a poisoned workplace at OCDC was vile," Leighton wrote.

"The chief culprit and his entourage taunted and humiliated Mr. Ranger repeatedly and the employer did almost nothing to address the homophobic atmosphere in the jail. The employer is liable for this failure."

That compensation includes $45,000, which the board said is the largest amount it has ever awarded for breaching the Human Rights Code and the collective agreement. The rest was because the board said the ministry failed to find him a suitable new job for several years.

Union lawyer Don Eady said the record award provides Ranger little comfort.

"He'd rather, if he could, turn back time and never have suffered what he went through rather than get $98,000 in damages for that pain and suffering," Eady said in an interview.

"I think he feels that the ministry frankly let him down almost at every stage."

The man named as the primary bully is suing the ministry, and a spokesman says it would be inappropriate for them to comment on the grievance board decision while the matter is still before the courts.

The ministry had pointed out to the board during the case that the main culprits were union members, but the board said that does not absolve the ministry of "knowingly doing nothing to address the poisoned workplace."

The taunting, including simulating sex acts and uttering slurs, lasted a little more than a year at the jail, until his "breaking point," in 2002, the board said.

Ranger was at a training session during which his main tormentor — also the union president at the time — made a series of homophobic jokes and the whole class laughed at his expense, including one person who laughed so hard he almost choked, the board said.

"It is clear from the evidence that the harassment at OCDC was profoundly humiliating to the grievor," Leighton wrote.

"Although he tried to ignore it, eventually it broke him. He felt victimized and lost self-respect. In his statement to the board, he describes himself as transformed to a bitter, distrustful person."

The board also awarded Ranger $244,242 in lost wages.

Ranger was eventually offered a secretarial position in a probation and parole office in early 2005, but toward the end of that year he was transferred to a permanent job as a service representative with the Ministry of Finance.

But Ranger, who was not mathematically inclined, felt that he was being set up to fail, the board said. The Ministry of Finance tried hard to support him in his new job, but he could not handle the work and went on sick leave again in 2006. He tried to return to the job later that year, but became ill again in 2007. He is currently back with a probation and parole office.

The deputy minister of community safety and correctional services said in 2004 that he regretted that Ranger had to experience "this unfortunate behaviour." Leighton said Ranger deserves another apology, but wouldn't order one in her decision, because she said a forced apology would not be a true one.

The union lawyer said he hopes Ranger gets an apology from the ministry and he hopes all employers learn from the decision.

"I think that unfortunately too often people that complain about discrimination of whatever form, whether it's sexual orientation or race or gender or anything, are often dismissed and the problems aren't rectified," Eady said.

"They tend to be swept under the rug or ignored. Hopefully this decision will remind people that they have obligations under collective agreements, under the law of the land, to take these matters seriously and to fix them."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version erroneously stated who is suing the ministry.