Discrimination complaint against eConcordia affiliate

JMSB graduate says he was mistreated by co-workers, manager at KnowledgeOne

Immediately after graduating, Mounir (a pseudonym used to protect his identity), a JMSB student in his 20s, was offered a job at KnowledgeOne. KnowledgeOne is the exclusive learning developer for Concordia University’s online accredited courses for eConcordia and Concordia’s Center for Continuing Education.

Graphic by Florence Yee

Mounir claims he was asked a number of questions during the interview process in August 2015 about the origin of his name and whether he was fasting during the summer months. Mounir moved to Montreal in 2001 from the Middle East and explained that his religious practices have never interfered with, nor been addressed at his previous jobs. Mounir said he didn’t question the interviewer at the time, as he didn’t want to risk not getting the job.

“In the interview, I was asked whether the length of my beard was ‘because I was Muslim,’” Mounir said.

In the first week at his new job in a managerial position at KnowledgeOne, Mounir said he was physically isolated from other people in the same field. There were instances where his colleagues made unusual and discriminatory comments towards him.

“Many of the promises made to me during the interview were not carried through,” he said. “I was not given an office, parking pass or other benefits they described which had influenced me to take this job.”

During his time at the company, Mounir said some of his colleagues and superiors would make racial slurs and discriminatory jokes based on his Middle Eastern background.

Mounir recounted an instance when his colleague told him he did not need an office with a window because his skin was already dark enough.

“Colleagues and superiors perceived the way I dressed as an indication that I was homosexual, and would make unwanted jokes about my sexual orientation,” Mounir said. One colleague allegedly said, “[Mounir] can be a really cute gay brown guy—a rare type!”

Mounir brought his concerns to his supervisors as well as the company’s human resources department, but no action was taken. “I made several reports with Human Resources at the company, but the situation never improved,” Mounir said.

Other instances of discrimination at KnowledgeOne included Mounir being left out of internal communication emails, and being ignored and excluded from meetings by a group of coworkers, Mounir said.

“It was a toxic work environment for me, and I was often treated like an outsider and isolated from my colleagues,” Mounir said.

“I began to work evenings and on weekends, when other employees were not in the office,” he said.

Although Mounir believes he performed well at work, he was fired in December 2015 for two reasons, one being that he entered a manager’s office without permission, which Mounir claims is false.

“I went to the Concordia Student Union legal services at Concordia, and I was directed to the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRAAR),” Mounir said, in the hopes that he would be compensated for overtime work he had not been paid for and for the items in his office he was not permitted to retrieve.

CRAAR is a non-profit civil rights organization committed to promoting racial harmony and equality, according to its website. The organization helped Mounir file a complaint at the Quebec Human Rights Commission for work discrimination.

“After losing his job, Mounir experienced significant financial and psychological pressures,” CRAAR said in a written statement. “He was forced to drop out of a semester [of graduate studies] due to loss of income, which caused him to lose the entire academic year, and has faced difficulty and prejudice finding a new job in his area of expertise.”

CRARR is also demanding that KnowledgeOne instate a “policy against discrimination in the workplace, to be approved by the Commission, a training program for managers on equality in the workplace, and … mandatory training for the latter on such requirements,” said Fo Niemi, CRAAR’s executive director.

“We take these claims very seriously. Currently, an ongoing internal investigation is being conducted regarding these allegations,” said Jennifer Friere, human resources director at KnowledgeOne.

When asked for further details, Friere said “we cannot comment on or provide information about any of our employees, past or present.”


Concordia launches a free online course partnered with the United Nations

The goal of the course is to educate as many students as possible worldwide

Concordia is now offering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) this fall, not only to Concordia students, but to students around the world.

The course, entitled Wicked Problems, Dynamic Solutions: The Ecosystem Approach and Systems Thinking, educates students on ecosystems and conservation theories, said director of the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre Peter Stoett. “[There is a necessity for thinking] about socio-ecological systems as we try to find solutions for some of the greatest challenges we face.”

“[The course] is an attempt to give widespread access to a course that teaches people some really necessary concepts and case studies related to the survival of future generations,” said Stoett. The online course is free and available to anyone around the world, as a part of the United Nations’ objective to make this course accessible to as many people as possible.

“The focus of the course, as the title implies, is on systems thinking and the ecosystem approach,” said Rebecca Tittler, coordinator of the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability & Loyola Sustainability Research Centre. “Systems thinking involves consideration of the various components of a system and the interactions between components.”

Tittler was on the core development team for the MOOC. She said the course discusses how to resolve colossal issues that result from climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, deforestation and forest degradation.

Stoett has connections with the UN, having previously worked with them, which prompted the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to contact Stoett for the opportunity to create this course at Concordia.

Robert Beauchemin, CEO of KnowledgeOne, the company in charge of developing eConcordia online courses, described the MOOC as a web-based platform. Beauchemin said the course is accessible through any web browser available on any computer, tablet and mobile device.

“The main reason we do that is because more people in Africa have cell phones than laptops and in Asia, as well,” said Stoett. “You don’t need a computer to take this course in a day and age when almost everyone—even really low income groups—have telephones.”

He said the second aspect to the course is to help compensate financial difficulties using a blended learning course available to all Concordia students.

Half of the blended learning course is offered online and half of the course will be taught in a classroom. The blended learning course will be a course available to all Concordia students, said Stoett. The MOOC will be a part of the blended learning course, which will be offered under the department of geography, intended as a course for first-year geography students.

Stoett said he believes the MOOC would be interesting to recent high school graduates, students mostly in the southern hemisphere, students who are entering university, who cannot afford university or either live in a country where university is not a well-developed system.

The Concordian asked Stoett if the curriculum is focused on North America or studying ecosystems worldwide. “It’s definitely worldwide,” said Stoett. “We have really tried to hit a global note with this—many of the case studies we used [and] many of the videos we used are from Africa, quite a few from Asia and some from Latin America.”

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