B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal has fined a Vancouver restaurant $27,861 after finding the company had discriminated against a Black teen girl who worked there.
At the age of 13, AB began her first job at Heirloom, a restaurant and juice bar; first, as a dishwasher and later a counter server and juicer, tribunal member Amber Prince said in her Sept. 22 decision.
William Greer is an owner of Heirloom while Nicolas Stone was AB’s direct manager.
AB filed the complaint after working at Heirloom for six months in 2019.
“Providing a healthy working environment includes addressing an employee’s concerns that they feel unsafe, uncomfortable, and unwelcome at work,” Prince said. “Heirloom’s responsibility was heightened in the context of a 13-year-old employee raising these concerns about her adult direct manager.’
Prince said how AB was treated was typical of stereotypical discrimination against Black women, and that it created a poisoned work environment for the child.
“I find that Mr. Stone and Heirloom discriminated against AB based on race and sex,” Prince said.
AB alleged Stone accused her of theft, demoted her, and was overly harsh towards her because she is a Black girl, treatment she said led her to resign from Heirloom.
Stone said he talked to AB about cash shortages on her shifts but did not accuse her of theft or demote her, according to the ruling.
“He denies that he was overly harsh towards AB," Prince said. “He says that any concerns he raised with AB were related to her work performance and were entirely non-discriminatory."
Stone and Greer said AB’s resignation was her choice and not the result of a discriminatory work environment. The men alleged AB’s mother, CD, filed the complaint for an improper motive. CD has also been an Heirloom employee and there had been a pay dispute.
The decision said Stone and Greer met with AB and CD; at the meeting, Greer said the cash “seldom adds up,” and that there are “lots of reasons” why the cash may not add up.
“Mr. Greer considered the matter closed, but AB and CD had a lingering concern that Mr. Stone had singled AB out for suspected theft,” Prince said.
AB returned to work but not to counter duties.
“She says that, in essence, she was demoted,” Prince said. “Mr. Stone says that AB chose to avoid working at the till after the cash shortage issue was raised.”
When AB left, Stone refused to provide her with a reference letter because he had concerns about her performance, state tribunal documents.
“AB says that this refusal is part of a pattern of Mr. Stone’s heightened scrutiny and harshness towards her because she is a Black girl,” Prince said.
AB testified Stone had called her “untrustworthy” and then said, “We can’t have thieves working for the company.” She began crying.
He denied making the comments.
The tribunal said while other people worked on the counter, only AB was singled out about cash shortages.
“I also accept that AB perceived this conversation as intimidating, given the context: an adult manager singling out a 13-year-old employee to tell her that there were reoccurring cash shortages only during her shifts,” Prince said.
Prince also accepted Greer’s evidence that cash shortages at Heirloom are common and usually due to an innocent mistake. She said Stone had no reason for singling out AB.
“He gave her the clear impression that she, and she alone, was suspected of theft.”
Relegated to the back of the business on her return, Prince said AB felt guilty and embarrassed she could not help her co-workers with customers and the cash register.
“I accept AB’s evidence that she would not have resigned but for an inhospitable and poisoned work environment at Heirloom,” Prince said.
The tribunal member said in the absence of an explanation, “Mr. Stone’s heightened suspicion, scrutiny, and monitoring of AB is consistent with persistent and harmful stereotypes that Black people are prone to theft and that Black children are more adult and less innocent than other children. I find it more probable than not that these stereotypes were at play in Mr. Stone’s treatment of AB in relation to the apparent cash shortage issue.”
Broken down, the fine is:
• Stone and Heirloom must pay AB $2,495 as compensation for wages lost because of the discrimination;
• Stone and Heirloom must pay AB $366 for the expenses she incurred because of the discrimination;
• Stone and Heirloom must pay AB $25,000 as compensation for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect.