First Indigenous, female Dean sues Lakehead for discrimination
By: Sanjana Sharma, Staff Writer
Angelique EagleWoman, the first Indigenous female to be named Dean of a Canadian Law School, filed a lawsuit against Lakehead University on November 20th, seeking $2.67 million on the basis of constructive dismissal, systematic discrimination, and breaching the Ontario Human Rights Code. The suit was filed in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa.
EagleWoman is a Dakota law professor and scholar of Indigenous law. She was appointed as Dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University in December of 2015, serving in the office from May 2016 to June 2018. She resigned from the title because she was subjected to micromanagement in a “demeaning and paternalistic” manner by the university administration, as per her statement of claim.
“The [university’s] ongoing micromanagement, failure to provide [EagleWoman] with the tools, resources and support needed to succeed in her role, and failure to address the hostile work environment ultimately led to the complete deterioration of the working relationship,” the claim states. It also asserts that this discrimination is attributable to her being an Indigenous woman.
Prior to the commencement of her term, EagleWoman was quoted on the university’s official website as saying: “This position is a dream come true for me because of the Faculty of Law’s commitment to produce lawyers for rural and small town legal practice, the focus on natural resources and environmental law, and the required curriculum on aspects of Aboriginal and Indigenous law.”
Then Vice-President, Dr. Moira McPherson expressed excitement at welcoming Eaglewoman, as quoted on the university’s official website. However, at the start of her tenure, EagleWoman alleges that she was asked to report all interactions, communications and emails with faculty members to McPherson, who has since been named the university’s first female President.
EagleWoman’s statement of claim says that often, decisions were made without her consultation. For instance, Lakehead settled the claims of two former staff members, Amanda Trevisanutto and Annet Maurer, who accused EagleWoman herself of discrimination, without consulting her in the process.
David Nahwegahbow of Nahwegahbow Corbiere Genoodmagejig Barristers & Solicitors, a representative of EagleWoman, noted that the hiring of EagleWoman was highly publicized by the university and that the university presented itself as having an Indigenous focus.
Legal Feeds received the following statement from Lakehead Media Relations: “We have received a statement of claim from Angelique EagleWoman’s lawyer. Lakehead University does not comment on any litigation or personnel matters.” The school also added that it had not yet filed a statement of defence.
Though unable to comment on the case, Dreeni Geer, Director of Human Rights and Equity at Lakehead University, spoke to The Argus about her office and advocating for human rights on campus: “It is our 3rd year of existence as the Office of Human Rights and Equity, and even though we are not part of the University reflex yet, we strive to become more and more visible and available to anybody in need.”
When asked about how we as an educated community might be lacking in providing safe workplaces for everybody, Geer commented: “We are not immune to the evils of society like sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, etc., but the fact that I have this office shows Lakehead’s commitment in creating internal mechanisms to solve these problems. The main thing is that Human Rights is remedial. We look at remedies and not punishments. We help the person affected, and also make the system stronger by learning to learn from mistakes.”
Lakehead has recently announced the development of a five-year Action Plan on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in consultation with students, faculty, staff and administrators, and particularly with individuals from under-represented groups. Geer said: “This plan is being developed for students, staff, and faculty. The University will be looking into high-level objectives and outcomes that we want to aim for, and next year, the task will be to write the plan, which will be in effect for the next five years to make the institution more inclusive. For each of the pillars, we have different areas that we will be working on – students, employees, institutional accountability, and external engagement. So, it’s going to come down from objectives to very clear actionable items.”
EagleWoman is now a visiting professor of law at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her case has not yet been tested in court.
Angelique EagleWoman did not respond to The Argus’ request for an interview and several professors at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law declined to comment.