By: Andrew Lawton
September 13, 2018
A new development in the case of Rick Mehta’s firing casts doubt on whether he can expect much support from his union in the forthcoming arbitration.
Mehta, a former tenured psychology professor at Acadia University, was fired at the end of August after a months-long investigation that invited crowdsourced complaints about Mehta’s conduct inside and outside of the classroom.
Even after the school commissioned two reports, there has been no formal finding of harassment or discrimination against Mehta. This is why Mehta wants the reports made public, which the school will not allow.
Because Mehta was a unionized faculty member, it’s the union’s responsibility to defend him. Though based on a “process agreement” between Mehta, the school, and the Acadia University Faculty Association, it’s clear this isn’t happening.
The document, published for the first time here, is supposed to be an agreement to the process by which Mehta will be disciplined. It was signed on August 1, 30 days before he was terminated.
The agreement says “the specific information contained or referred to in the MacKay Report and the Hooper Report could potentially form the basis of discipline of the Grievor (Mehta).”
It also says the “Parties to this Agreement have agreed to expedite all issues relating to the Grievor in accordance with this Agreement on a without prejudice and precedent basis.”
Except Mehta refused to sign it. And despite him urging his union to do the same, his supposed representative signed it anyway.
Mehta’s union entered into the agreement that ultimately led to his dismissal without his authorization or consent.
“The union’s lawyer spent two hours trying to convince me to sign it—and then the union’s president signed it anyway after I had refused,” Mehta told me in an interview.
Had he signed it, it would have been bound to a clause saying he’s “not permitted to distribute the confidential information related to the complaint…. This includes, but is not limited to, posting information on social media or providing any information to the media generally or any third parties.”
It also would have barred Mehta from even commenting on the case in media reports.
In effect, Mehta’s union has endorsed the same gag order and lack of transparency that the university itself has attempted to impose on him.
Why this is so concerning is that it essentially leaves Mehta without representation, and thus without viable recourse. He complained to Nova Scotia’s labour board under Duty to Fair Representation provisions, but was told this week that unions have the authority to make decisions in spite of the disagreement of the member impacted by the decision.
In the eyes of Nova Scotia’s labour laws, the union is representing Mehta fairly because it is taking the case to arbitration.
In the September 11 phone call from the labour board, he was told his complaint was unlikely to go anywhere because his union is representing him—even if that representation is only on paper.
Full “process” agreement between Acadia University, Rick Mehta, and the Acadia faculty association. You can read it here.