01/23/2015 09:13 EST | Updated 03/25/2015 05:59 EDT

Celgar mill discrimination claim by Castlegar women to be heard in B.C.

A former human resources manager at Castlegar's Zelstoff Celgar mill claims she and other non-union female supervisors were denied equal pay and opportunities to their male counterparts.

In a complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal, Adrienne McKellar says she was fired in June 2012 after complaining about systemic discrimination that saw men promoted over women and given more pay for the same or similar positions.

She also details similar situations involving three other senior female employees.

"I think the complaint raises some very important issues," says Lindsay Lyster, McKellar's lawyer.

"I think it's really hard for women who believe that they're being discriminated against on the basis of sex who are in non-union positions to put their hand up to say 'I think something's wrong here.'"

Different title, less pay

The tribunal has made no findings on the merits of McKellar's claims, but in a decision released this week, agreed to hear her complaint on behalf of current and former non-union female supervisors.

McKellar claims she had been groomed to take over from the outgoing Human Resources Superintendent when he retired in 2012.

She says she was given all his responsibilities, but called the 'Human Resources Advisor' instead.

"At the same time, she was informed that she would receive a pay increase which was considerably less money than the incumbent had made," the decision reads.

McKellar claims she raised concerns about the situation via email with the chief financial officer of Mercer International, Zelstoff Celgar's Washington-based parent company. They promised to investigate, but McKellar said she was fired without warning shortly after.

According to the tribunal, the person who investigated McKellar's concerns only interviewed the three men she named in her complaint. They were asked if the decision to give her a different title with lower pay was based on gender.

"Not surprisingly, all answered in the negative," the decision says.

Complaint names three other women

The complaint also cites allegations involving three other women: Susan Meredith, Christine Galer and Diane Perehudoff.

Meredith claims she took early retirement in July 2013 after she was allegedly denied a human resources management position in favour of a male candidate with less education, experience and credentials.

Galer resigned in September 2012 because she allegedly received less pay and vacation time than subordinate male colleagues. And Perehudoff was allegedly paid $10,000 less a year than a man with less experience.

In a response to the tribunal, the company sought to have McKellar's complaint dismissed. The company denies McKellar's allegations and claims the only similarity between the situations cited in the complaint is that they all involve women.

"There are allegations made and there are answers to those allegations," said the company's lawyer, Naz Mitha.

"The issue is whether those answers at this early stage were enough to dismiss the complaint entirely, and the tribunal has decided that there are nuances in the evidence which need clarification."

ZelstoffCelgar also claims the woman who occupies one of the two most senior executive positions at the mill makes the same amount as her male counterpart.

The company says it uses an outside consultant to set non-unionized salaries, and that evaluations of each position and candidate are conducted with names and gender removed.

Read the full BC Human Rights Tribunal decision. On mobile? Click here