On Dec. 4, 2013, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario rendered a decision awarding a large sum in damages, continuing the trend that has been seen in 2013. In Islam v. Big Inc., three employees approached the Human Rights Tribunal separately in early 2011 after their employment ended (two men were fired, while the third quit). Each claimedthe owners of Toronto restaurant Papillon on the Park discriminated against them on racial and religious grounds.
The former employees were immigrants from Bangladesh who speak Bengali and practice the Muslim faith. The three were employed as head chef, sous chef, and cook. They worked in the kitchen of the restaurant, which was open and could be seen by patrons. The tribunal accepted evidence from the workers that they would sometimes speak Bengali in the kitchen to make sure orders were properly communicated. At various times, all three alleged that the owners mocked them for speaking in their native tongue, introduced an "English in the kitchen" rule, and threatened to close the restaurant, just to replace them with white employees.
Two of the three workers complained they were forced to taste pork, which is forbidden by their adherence to the Muslim religion. Further, they also complained the owners required them to taste food during Ramadan, when they were fasting, or face the possible consequence of being fired. One worker stated that when he refused to taste a tortière because he was fasting during Ramadan, one of the owners responded by saying "you guys are crazy," referring to their religious practices. The tribunal accepted the workers’ evidence and found that the employer did engage in these discriminatory and harassing practices.
The tribunal further found the workers made complaints internally to their employer, but their complaints were summarily dismissed without any investigation or serious consideration, and the employer engaged in further discriminatory conduct as a result of the workers attempting to enforce their rights under the Human Rights Code.
In total, the tribunal ordered the employer to pay nearly $28,000 to the three workers for lost wages, plus interest. It also ordered the employer to pay damages to compensate for the violation of each worker’s inherent right to be free from discrimination, injury to their dignity, feelings and self-respect — including the continuing stress caused by failure to investigate the complaints of discrimination. The amounts of those damages for the three workers were $37,000, $22,000, and $12,000.
The amount of damages ordered in this decision is certainly large, but it is well within the expected range given that there were three individual workers and the nature of the discrimination and harassment was particularly offensive.
For more information see:
• Islam v. Big Inc., 2013 HRTO 2009 (Ont. Human Rights Trib.).
Michael MacLellan is an associate with Crawford Chondon & Partners LLP, a managment labour and employment law firm in Brampton, Ont. He can be reached at (905) 874-9343 ext. 251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.