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Leon's fined for racial discrimination

HALIFAX - A woman who was subjected to several instances of racial harassment at a Leon's Furniture store in Halifax said Thursday she felt justice has been served after her former employer was ordered to pay her $8,000 by a human rights board.

Garnetta Cromwell, 46, said in a telephone interview that she was pleased by the findings of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Board of Inquiry, which concluded she had been discriminated against by her supervisor at Leon's Furniture Ltd. (TSX:LNF) in Dartmouth.

"It validates my credibility. I'm the most happy about that ... It was definitely worth the fight," said Cromwell, who is black.

She also said the problem of inappropriate racial comments continues to flourish in Nova Scotia and she is hopeful her case will act as a deterrent.

"I want the leaders in the workforce to take initiative and take charge and heighten their awareness of discrimination," she said.

The board found that Cromwell experienced 10 incidents of racial harassment while working as a sales associate at the big-box store from 2004 to 2008, when she resigned.

In one incident, Cromwell said that at a staff function her manager's husband repeatedly called her Contessa, a term she testified was commonly used for slaves working in a master's house.

The 73-page decision also said her supervisor referred to her as Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state, when she was talking to customers on the showroom floor.

"Being called Condoleezza Rice by one's manager in the presence of customers is not acceptable," the board says in its decision.

"The complainant is entitled to be treated professionally, particularly when dealing with the public."

In the event that led to her filing a human rights complaint, Cromwell said her supervisor asked her to come to his office for a performance evaluation in 2008. As she entered, she testified that he said, "Everybody out. It's time for a lynching."

The human rights board condemned the comment, calling it "unacceptable for a manager to threaten physical violence as a joke in a workplace."

It also said Cromwell faced excessive and ongoing discipline for workplace infractions at the store, while being discouraged from applying for management positions. She said she was suspended for missing work, a punishment she said was too harsh.

Cromwell, who declared bankruptcy and took a medical leave after the incidents, was seeking $10,000 in damages plus lost wages.

She said she would like to receive an apology letter, but she has yet to hear from the company.

No one from Leon's Furniture was available for comment.

The company has been ordered to pay Cromwell within 30 days.

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