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Anxiety diagnosis at heart of Dartmouth inn employee’s rights commission hearing

Yvette Beals stands outside the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission hearing room, where her complaint of being removed from a job at the Comfort Inn in Dartmouth because of a disability was being heard Wednesday.
Yvette Beals stands outside the Nova Scotia Human Rights hearing room, where her complaint of being removed from a job at the Comfort Inn in Dartmouth because of a disability was being heard Wednesday. - Francis Campbell

A Dartmouth woman says she was “overwhelmed” and stressed by additional work before being dismissed from her front-desk job at the Comfort Inn in Dartmouth.

“Being thrown into all of the extras, that itself was a lot,” said Yvette Beals of Dartmouth. “What I went through, what I seen, the extra work that I did, that’s stress, that’s anxiety, that’s a lot on a person. You are hired to do a one-person job, not two or three.”

Beals, 41, started work at the Comfort Inn in November 2016, left on stress leave the following June and was told in October 2017 that she had been replaced and there was no room for her at the inn when she was given the medical OK to go back to work.

She launched a complaint through the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission the following March, saying she was dismissed because of a mental disability.

"You are hired to do a one-person job, not two or three.” — Yvette Beals

A hearing into the complaint convened Wednesday. Donald Murray, chairman of the board of inquiry dealing with the complaint, wondered aloud if anxiety, even if it leads to medication and a feeling of being overwhelmed as was the case with Beals, actually qualifies as a mental disability under the provincial Human Rights Act.

“I would say yes,” replied Kendrick Douglas, a human rights lawyer representing the commission. “From a reasonable perspective, anyone who has anxiety, that can certainly be put under the umbrella of mental disability.”

Beals, a 41-year-old mother of three, said she moved to Dartmouth in 2007 and eventually took a job with the Comfort Inn. She said she never had any issues at previous jobs and her part-time work at the Windmill Road hotel that included three shifts a week went smoothly at first.

After a couple of months, Beals said a staffing shortage had her thrown into working breakfast for 74 people connected with a hockey team. That happened on three occasions, she said. Asked by Douglas if she could turn down the additional tasks, Beals said, “who was going to feed the people.”

Beals, who described herself as being a good and dependable worker who didn’t complain, said the stress of being asked to do too much eventually became too much to bear. Beals, who also held a job as a homecare worker looking after an elderly woman, said by June 2017 she was stressed and couldn’t sleep. She saw her doctor and was “put on leave,” and prescribed a sleeping pill.

Beals said she went to the Inn, gave an employee there the doctor’s note to put in the log book for all employees to see and called Mary Vandergrift, general manager of the hotel. Beals said she informed Vandergrift that she would be off indefinitely and was told to get better and to call if she needed anything.

After another doctor’s visit in September 2017, Beals said she was given clearance to go back to work. She said she called Vandergrift on Oct. 13 and told her she was ready to come back to work. But Beals said the general manager told her she was no longer needed, that the hotel had a good team and that she would be paid for two weeks in lieu of not having been given notice.

Vandergrift confirmed that was the way the October phone conversation went but she testified that earlier parts of the story were different. Vandergrift said she was told in the June phone conversation by Beals that the leave would be two months in length.

Vandergrift also said other staff complained in January about Beals’ attitude at work and that she left work undone. After Beals went on leave, Vandergrift said staff urged her not to bring Beals back. In the meantime, Vandergrift said another staffer had been interviewed and hired.

“I feel that whoever was hired in that position should have been told this is a temporary position." — Yvette Beals

Questioned about the complaints, Vandergrift said that she never discussed attitude or unfinished work with Beals.

“I feel that whoever was hired in that position should have been told this is a temporary position,” Beals said of the additional hire.

“If there had been any other issues with me as far as my attitude and my performance at work, those issues should have been addressed long, long before. … You can’t just tell an employee who thinks they’re coming back to a job ‘oh, I’m sorry, we have a good team.’ That’s just not how it works.”

Vandergrift said she had no documentation of the complaints, didn’t keep a record of dates on which the complaints were made and that job assessments were not done.

Beals questioned Vandergrift directly at the hearing.

“You were willing to let me go with no proof of anything, no documentation, no dates,” Beals asked and Vandergrift replied in the affirmative.

“I was instructed by the owner to just do what needed to be done, to not take notes,” Vandergrift said. “The only reason I did take notes was for somebody who had been there for five years or more.

“My job as the general manager is to make sure that everything runs smoothly, what’s best for the hotel. It was causing a lot of conflict with the staff. They were upset with the way she was behaving and leaving things undone for the rest of us to do.”

Vandergrift said she was not aware that Beals had a disability of any kind until the human rights complaint had been filed.

“You have two plausible explanations going on here but I think the one you have to give the most weight to is the one of Ms. Beals,” Douglas told the hearing. “According to her evidence, she had a disability, there is no doubt about that, and to her mind her disability played a significant role, perhaps the only role, in her not returning to her position.”

Murray asked Douglas to seek out a more precise definition of mental disability and to forward it to Murray, Beals and Vandergrift by the end of the week. The chairman will then deliberate on the evidence and deliver a written decision if that decision is in favour of the Comfort Inn. If the decision goes Beals’ way, the hearing will be reconvened to discuss remedies.

Beals said outside the hearing that she would seek compensation but not a return to work at the Comfort Inn.

“I couldn’t go back there now,” said Beals, who now works at the Delta Marriott.

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