First Indigenous dean of Canadian law school sues Lakehead over ‘poisoned’ workplace

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First Indigenous dean of Canadian law school sues Lakehead over ‘poisoned’ workplace


The woman who became the first Indigenous dean of a Canadian law school is suing Lakehead University for discrimination, two years after her appointment was touted as a milestone by the legal community.

In a statement of claim against the Thunder Bay university, Angelique EagleWoman said she was subjected to ongoing micromanagement and deprived of resources to fulfil the Indigenous programming mandate the law school prides itself on.

Angelique EagleWoman, who quit as dean of Lakehead University’s law school earlier this year, has launched a lawsuit against the university alleging discrimination and claiming she endured constant micromanaging, which undermined her authority.
Angelique EagleWoman, who quit as dean of Lakehead University’s law school earlier this year, has launched a lawsuit against the university alleging discrimination and claiming she endured constant micromanaging, which undermined her authority.  (SUPPLIED PHOTO)

She also said she endured constant questioning of her judgment, abilities and leadership style, according to the statement of claim filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice last week.

EagleWoman alleged she was required to report to the provost “on all interactions, communications, and emails with faculty members” and substitute the provost’s responses for her own. In addition, the university hired a consultant to draft and edit her correspondence, according to the claim.

“The plaintiff’s attempts to carry out her duties as dean and to fulfil the law school’s mandate were continuously met by barriers erected by the defendant,” alleged EagleWoman, who was hired by Lakehead in May 2016 with fanfare but quit earlier this year.

“The defendant’s conduct served to undermine the plaintiff’s authority and effectiveness as dean and created a poisoned environment, making her continued employment impossible,” according to the claim.

EagleWoman, who left Thunder Bay and now lives in Minnesota, is seeking $2.67 million in damages, including lost earnings.

In an email response to the Star, Lakehead acknowledged it has received the statement of claim but refused to comment on ongoing litigation or personnel matters. It has not yet filed a statement of defence. EagleWoman’s allegations have not been proven in court.

According to the claim, shortly after joining the law school, EagleWoman found out her white male predecessor had been paid a higher salary than she was getting for the same work, though it was adjusted after she raised the unequal pay issue.

The lawsuit alleged that the university appointed a director at the law school without consulting EagleWoman, a decision which “again served to undermine her authority.”

EagleWoman, who was recruited from the University of Idaho College of Law, said in the claim that Lakehead generated significant revenue through higher tuition for law students and related grants from the province, but the faculty’s budget only represented 65 per cent of that revenue. Her requests to hire a second Indigenous law scholar as a faculty member and implement cultural competency training for staff were also denied, the claim said.

The statement of claim said Lakehead’s first application to establish a law school was initially rejected by the Ontario government and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada because the province didn’t need another law school.

It then submitted a successful application that centred around Indigenous programming and, in 2013, became one of only two law schools in Canada that has a mandatory, full-year course in Aboriginal law as recommended by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

During her tenure, EagleWoman alleged she faced “open hostility and resentment” from a small segment of faculty, staff and students who suggested she was not hired on merit or worthy of the position.

Two staff at the law school also made reverse-discrimination allegations against her and the university settled those claims without her input, EagleWoman claimed. Lakehead’s actions and inactions to address the hostile work environment forced her to leave her job in April, said the lawsuit.

EagleWoman did not respond to the Star’s request for comment.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung





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