"Employers have to be very, very careful," said Kenneth Alexander, who represented the employee, Karen Butler-Lynch. "She may have hurt the feelings (of co-workers) but it doesn't amount to just cause."
The case, which is the first of its kind in Ontario, centred on statements Butler-Lynch, who is white, made during a meeting with her non-white colleagues at Dr. Roz's Healing Place, a shelter for battered women.
The long-time employee said it was "a challenge for me to work here as a white woman with all these black women and women of colour."
That poisoned the work environment and was enough to justify firing the 48-year-old woman without notice last year, the defence argued.
In her ruling, Justice Gloria Klowak of the Ontario Superior Court agreed that employers should have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to racist comments.
But Butler-Lynch's remarks were "ambiguous," and may have been in response to the shelter's executive director talking about the challenges faced by black women, the judge noted, awarding Butler-Lynch about $28,000.