A teacher in McGill’s music department is suing the Montreal university for $300,000 claiming he was passed over for a prestigious job.
In the lawsuit filed on June 6 at Quebec Superior Court, conductor and instructor Jonathan Dagenais alleges several experts agreed he was the most qualified candidate by far but that because of his race, he wasn’t chosen.
None of the allegations have been proven in court and McGill University has not yet delivered a statement of defence setting out its response to Dagenais’ allegations.
Dagenais, a white man, is a well-respected conductor for multiple orchestras, including the McGill Wind Orchestra. He’s a teacher at the university’s Schulich School of Music.
He has been a part-time and replacement lecturer at McGill for more than a decade. When a professor and community engagement job came up earlier this year, he thought it was a perfect match.
“It was really my dream job,” Dagenais said. “It’s exactly the job I was looking for in my life.”
After a seven-month application process, Dagenais said he was chosen as one of the final three candidates for the tenured position.
At the grueling all-day audition, he said he put his teaching and conducting skills on display in front of a seven-person panel.
“I felt really, really good. I was really nervous, actually, but I felt really good,” he said.
Six weeks later, he hadn’t had any news. He reached out to one of the selection committee members to ask if he could expect news imminently.
He said he was told he wasn’t getting the job, and was shocked by the reason given.
“At the end of the call, he said ‘It’s for diversity reasons,'” Dagenais said.
He also is alleging he found out that the selection committee recommended him for the job unanimously not once, but twice.
Still, the music department chose a candidate from a diverse background instead, he said.
Dagenais says he implements diversity and inclusion in all his teaching and finds inclusiveness vitally important.
“I felt really like it went a bit too far. It’s important to promote diversity, to give equality of chances,” he said. “There’s a difference between equality of chances and equality of results at the end.”
His $300,000 lawsuit against the school cites the psychological and financial effects of the decision and claims his fundamental rights were breached.
Dagenais’ lawyer, Gabriel Chaloult Lavoie, said the selection committee deemed his client’s candidacy “not only better, but by far better,” than the other candidates.
“McGill used my client in order to give some credibility to their selection process, while they knew from the beginning that he never had a chance to get that position,” the lawyer alleged.
Dagenais said had he known the university was specifically seeking a candidate from a diverse background, he wouldn’t have put so much energy into his application and would have sought other employment.
“I would have been a bit disappointed because I love McGill, but I would have understood,” he said.
Ironically Dagenais just won a teaching award from the school.
He has a letter of support signed by dozens of students but has given up on getting the job. He’s so devastated, he might leave music altogether, he says.
“I’m heartbroken by this,” he said through tears. “You give your heart to the institution, you give your heart to students, and then this thing happens. You’re just asking yourself why? Why? Why am I doing this?”
McGill wouldn’t comment on his specific case but said it follows all laws and internal policies during hiring processes.
“McGill does not prioritize membership in an equity-seeking group over excellence in any context, including academic recruitment,” the university said in an email not signed by any specific spokesperson.
“We can provide assurance that all those appointed to academic positions are eminently qualified and positioned to flourish intellectually and academically at McGill University.”