By Shanifa Nasser, CBC News

Patricia Jaggernauth’s complaint points to ‘pattern of discrimination in pay,’ says human rights commission

Bell Media could lose its bid to have former television personality Patricia Jaggernauth’s human rights case thrown out, after a Canadian Human Rights Commission report noting her complaint raises “serious human rights issues that are systemic in nature.”

In a confidential report seen by CBC News, the commission said it found “reasonable basis” to support that the allegations of pay disparity and racial discrimination made by the once-familiar face on CP24 may be linked to sex, race, colour or other prohibited grounds of discrimination.

“The complaint raises serious human rights issues that are systemic in nature, involve significant power asymmetries and potentially long-lasting harms, disproportionately affect a historically disadvantaged group,” it says, adding there is a “strong public interest” aspect to Jaggernauth’s case.

The report recommends the case be referred to the human rights tribunal if it cannot be settled within four months. It will now be up to the commissioner to decide whether to take up the recommendation.

Bell takes any such allegations ‘very seriously’

A spokesperson for Bell Media told CBC News the company respects the commission’s process and will not comment publicly on a report released to the parties on a confidential basis.

“Bell Media takes allegations of any potential discrimination or workplace misconduct very seriously, and is committed to a safe, inclusive, and respectful work environment where employees can thrive. If a matter is brought to our attention where an employee did not feel adequately supported, a process is initiated to review and address when required,” the spokesperson said.

WATCH | Patricia Jaggernauth on why she’s made her fight against Bell Media public:

Last spring, Bell asked that the commission dismiss Jaggernauth’s complaint, arguing she could have filed a grievance through her union. The report rejected that, arguing many of the allegations stem from before Jaggernauth was unionized.

Jaggernauth, a former weather specialist, remote reporter and co-host with Bell, first went public with her allegations against the media giant in 2022. Speaking exclusively to CBC News, she said her salary was significantly lower than her white male colleagues, despite performing similar duties, and that during her 11 years with the company, she was “treated as a token and a commodity.”

Her story made headlines at a time when Bell was already facing scrutiny over the sudden dismissal of CTV National anchor Lisa LaFlamme.

Part Guyanese and part Jamaican, Jaggernauth has said she was denied full-time stable employment and was at times forced to work for weeks straight without a day off — an experience she said landed her in hospital with pneumonia because she felt she had no choice but to put work ahead of her health.

‘Vindication and validation’

Seeing the commission’s report was a “moment of vindication and validation that I’ve been heard and seen,” Jaggernauth told CBC News.

“Unfortunately, people see themselves in this story … in the racism, the tokenism,” she said.

“I just feel like unless you’re banging down the door and kicking in the door and smashing these glass ceilings, sometimes if you don’t make a big public outcry like this when you can, you’re never heard.”

Among the many pieces of evidence provided in support of the complaint, the report points to a letter written by one of Jaggernauth’s colleagues to the union in 2019 on behalf of three female hosts “that talks about the pay disparity that all of them have faced for years.” The report notes the version of the letter it relied on was a draft.

“This company has heard our legitimate concerns about pay opportunities for women in our newsroom through this process. Perhaps they did not hear us loud and clear,” the letter says.

According to the report, Jaggernauth is seeking payment for pain and suffering, willful or reckless behaviour, lost wages and other expenses, as well as “an agreement to end the discrimination.”

But Jaggernauth says the case isn’t so much about money as it is change.

And while she’s hopeful a settlement will put an end to her ordeal, she says she’s ready to make her case at the tribunal if that’s what it takes.

“I’m here for the long haul, because it matters more than just a paycheque,” she said.

‘Pick up the phone,’ lawyer tells Bell

Jaggernauth’s lawyer, Kathryn Marshall, says she’s represented several clients with human rights cases and it’s uncommon to see “such an overwhelmingly strong endorsement from the commission for a case to have a public hearing.”

And while the report is marked confidential, she says she believes it’s up to the individual to decide if they want to tell their story, adding it’s “fundamental for justice” that reports like these see the light of day.

Lawyer Kathryn Marshall in Toronto.

Lawyer Kathryn Marshall, who represents Jaggernauth, says she respects the commission’s process but believes it’s up to the individual to decide if they want to tell their story, adding it’s “fundamental for justice” that reports like these see the light of day. (Olivia Bowden/CBC)

As for what comes next, Marshall says she and Jaggernauth remain open to hearing from Bell, but have so far heard nothing.

“If Bell has read this report and they’re listening to what Canadians are saying and they’re taking the temperature on the public discussion that’s happening in this country right now about workplace abuse and workplace misconduct and racism and inequalities, they should pick up the phone,” she said.

On its website, the commission says decisions are generally made within two weeks of a report, however Marshall says Bell has asked for an extension to respond to the allegations, meaning a decision isn’t expected before July.

That doesn’t bother Jaggernauth, who says she’s willing to keep up the fight for as long as it takes. And while there may now be more diversity in leadership, she says, that doesn’t go far enough.

“You look around and the tokenism is so real. Placing the Blacks, the Indians, the Hispanics, even the LGBTQ+ community, just placing us there because look, there’s one of you,” she said.

“Are you giving the community that’s actually watching your programming what they’re asking for? You’re not. Do better, Bell.”