On March 11, 2021, Williams discovered a noose drawing on his company locker. Williams brought the drawing to the attention of human resources. Human resources requested that the drawing be removed and did not investigate further.
On May 12, 2021, company employees discovered highly offensive and racist comments directed at Williams that had been written on one of the company’s bathroom stalls. A photo of the message shows writing saying: "Kill William the Ape" and "F--k BLM”.
Although the comments were removed, the management of Vac instructed its employees not to tell Williams what had occurred. Contrary to that instruction, an employee told him the contents of the message the next day.
Williams felt unsafe and requested that management address the issues. Despite repeated requests, management only called the police to investigate the graffiti in the bathroom a full week after it had been removed. The investigation was inconclusive. Williams felt that management was not confronting racism in the workplace.
One month after police began investigating, on June 16, 2021, Williams was laid off, along with several other employees. He believed that the move was partially related to him getting the police involved to address the anti-Black racism. He decided to go public and contacted CTV News. CTV also contacted his employer, but they declined to comment.
An article on Mr. Williams’ situation was released by CTV News on July 9, 2021. The article named the employer, summarized Williams’ situation, and featured various quotes from him about racism in the workplace and his continued concerns for the safety of remaining employees of colour at the company.
Williams then launched a lawsuit against his ex-employer on September 17, 2021. He sued for damages for wrongful dismissal and breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code.
On November 10, 2021, Williams’ ex-employer countersued for damages to their reputation and an injunction. This countersuit may have been prepared to prevent Williams from publishing any more public statements about the company.
Williams then brought a motion, which is a request before a judge to dismiss the employer’s lawsuit against him.
The Ontario Superior Court dismissed the employer’s lawsuit. The Court placed particular emphasis on weighing the competing interests at play. The Court assessed the following:
- the public interest in allowing the company’s counterclaim to proceed; and
- the public interest in protecting Williams’ freedom of expression.
The Court sided in favour of Williams. In doing so, it stated that “the public interest overwhelmingly favours the protection of [Mr. Williams’] expression.” In finding this conclusion, it stated: “There are few expressions more essential to a productive pluralistic society than the elimination of workplace racism.”
Williams’ lawsuit against his ex-employer will now continue. We will be following the case.