Canada’s first Indigenous law school dean is suing the university that employed her, saying it actively undermined her while also exploiting her to raise money and attract aboriginal students.
Angelique EagleWoman, 48, was hired for a five-year term at an annual salary of $210,000 as dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, in May, 2016. But after just two years, she resigned.
Her lawsuit, filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, seeks $2.6-million for lost income and punitive damages, alleging constructive dismissal and racial discrimination.
“Lakehead promoted this law school as being primarily about Indigeous communities,” her lawyer, Paul Champ of Ottawa, said in an interview. “It was really just window dressing. They wanted her as a figurehead. They were trotting her out to all these events with donors.”
Brandon Walker, a Lakehead spokesperson, said the school does not comment on lawsuits or personnel matters. Ms. EagleWoman is seeking to have her lawsuit heard in Ottawa, saying that the judges in Thunder Bay have close relationships with the law school. The school opened in 2013, and its mandate includes the study of Indigenous law.
After Ms. EagleWoman resigned, the school asked a semi-retired Thunder Bay judge to fill in as temporary dean. When Ontario Superior Court Justice Patrick Smith took a leave of absence from the bench and accepted the request, the Canadian Judicial Council began discipline proceedings against him, saying that judges shouldn’t take jobs that might involve them in controversy. Those proceedings have since been dropped.
In her lawsuit, which contains unproven allegations, Ms. EagleWoman said she experienced “micro-aggressions and hostility” from staff, faculty and students, which Lakehead failed to address. And the school demeaned her, she said, by close monitoring that included having someone help draft and edit her correspondence with faculty and staff, and by paying her $9,000 less than the previous dean, a white man. (The school eventually added the $9,000 to her $210,000 salary.)
The university’s “micro-managing, regular monitoring and constant oversight reflected a paternalistic and even colonial attitude towards [her] and conveyed the message to her and others that perhaps she was hired for reasons other than her abilities, experience and reputation as a scholar and academic leader,” the lawsuit said.
Ms. EagleWoman, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe from the United States, alleges that a hostile work environment existed. Two law professors, Daniel Dylan and Frances Chapman, were “openly defiant,” she said.
Dr. Chapman did not reply to a request for comment. Prof. Dylan denied the allegation when contacted by The Globe and Mail. “She was intensely disliked,” he said. “I’m not comfortable saying anything more.”
Separately, a staff member filed a claim against Ms. EagleWoman with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, saying she had been discriminated against as a white woman. Another staff member filed a lawsuit against her making a similar allegation.
The school settled the two legal actions without consulting her, Ms. EagleWoman said in the lawsuit, and did not allow her to address the behaviour of the allegedly defiant professors in an appropriate manner. Nor would it provide cultural competency training, or set up an Indigenous mediation process “to allow her to voice her sense of powerlessness and to address the discriminatory behaviour,” her statement of claim said.