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Vet tells judge: I’ve been ‘treated like a pariah’

Veterinarian Susann Smith maintains she was discriminated against when she was denied the post of Government vet in 1997.

“I know what I experienced all those years ago,” Dr Smith told Supreme Court, asking why else she would have subjected herself to years of “public humiliation or shame” if it wasn’t true.

Dr Smith is appealing the dismissal last year by a special board of the Human Rights Commission of her almost 16-year-old case.

Supreme Court judge Stephen Hellman heard Dr Smith allege that the veterinary profession has been dominated in Bermuda by white families.

The HRC board failed to take into account that the time of the alleged discrimination “took place almost 20 years ago, during an era of Bermuda’s history when social and economic imbalance was even more pronounced when it is today”, she said.

She added: “Things are changing, definitely, throughout the Island. But it’s slower in some areas than others.”

Dr Smith still maintains that structural racism led her exclusion from the post of Government veterinary officer, when her Jamaican qualifications were deemed insufficient for the job.

“This nefarious, infamous policy was created to protect the interests of the white-dominated veterinary profession in Bermuda.”

Representing herself, Dr Smith cross-examined Jonathan Nesbitt, the Bermudian vet who took the Government job in 1997 and holds the position to this day.

She questioned how Dr Nesbitt was able to engage in work alongside vet Tom James during 1989 before he held a veterinary licence.

Earlier in the day, Dr Nesbitt had recalled applying unsuccessfully for the job of Government vet in 1987 and 1990.

He also admitted he hadn’t expected to get the job.

Calling himself “green”, Dr Nesbitt said: “If a position had asked for practical experience, then I know I would have been lacking in that category.”

He was successful after accruing seven years’ private experience, plus US qualifications.

According to a letter compiled by the Bermuda Veterinary Association in 1997, it had been “a hitherto accepted custom and practice for the last 35 years” for vets to show qualifications from the North American or Europe to register in Bermuda.

Dr Smith became Bermuda’s first black woman to qualify as a vet when she obtained her doctorate from Tuskegee University in the US. Dr Nesbitt is also a graduate of Tuskegee.

She obtained a Jamaican licence after repeatedly failing the requisite US exams, only to be turned down for the job of Government vet.

Questioned by Government lawyer Charles Richardson, Dr Nesbitt said he’d been pleased to get an e-mail from Dr Smith in 2004 saying she had US accreditation. “We were genuinely happy for her,” he recalled.

But the faculty degree from the University of Missouri wasn’t qualification enough, he said, adding: “I was disappointed that it was not what it purported to be.”

The Island’s policy was formally set down in 2008, and then recognised Caribbean qualifications, allowing Dr Smith to get her Bermuda licence.

But she told the court she’d been left stigmatised.

Charging that the Bermuda Veterinary Association continued to ignore her, Dr Smith said she was “treated like a pariah.”

In his closing argument, Mr Richardson told Mr Justice Hellman: “I would totally agree with Dr Smith that racism does exist and has existed in Bermuda for a very long time. It is beyond dispute that we once lived in a society which was run by what was essentially an oligarchy.”

But Mr Richardson added that “the only thing more pernicious than that is when an individual has been denied something they feel they are entitled to” and called the decision racist.

A final ruling by Mr Justice Hellman is pending.

Susan Smith has accused Government of discrimination after she wasn't given the job of Government veterinarian

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Published April 09, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 09, 2013 at 12:04 am)

Vet tells judge: I’ve been ‘treated like a pariah’

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