VERNON - A Vernon woman alleges she was discriminated against by her employer due to her pregnancy, including being told she was “just a little girl” and that customers “didn’t want to see it.”
Last month, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ordered a hearing into the allegations, following a formal complaint from Vernon resident Haylee Boender.
In a written decision, tribunal member Catherine McCreary says Boender started working at The Squires Four Public House as a server in July 2015. McCreary noted in her decision that she makes no findings of fact.
Boender found out she was pregnant in September 2015 and immediately told her boss, Serry Massoud. Massoud is a president of the pub, and also the day-to-day general manager.
“Ms. Boender says that Mr. Massoud would always make comments about her getting bigger and said the customers 'didn’t want to see it.' He also said that she had no rights and had to go on maternity leave right away. She says that she would leave in tears almost every day because of his comments,” it says in the decision.
Boender alleges that around the middle of February 2016, when she really started to show, Massoud told her almost daily that she had to leave right away. He reminded her he owns the pub and would tell her when to go on maternity leave. Boender says she explained to him that she could not collect maternity benefits until 11 weeks before her due date.
“Ms. Boender claims he also said he was the owner and Ms. Boender was 'just a little girl' that didn’t have any rights in his bar. He also stated she was wrong to think she could stay as long as she wanted,” McCreary says.
Due to the stress, Boender’s doctor recommended she stop working earlier than planned, resulting in her leaving work before her maternity leave was due to start.
Massoud did not make himself available for an interview and a call to the pub’s legal counsel, Leah Volkers, was not returned by deadline. In statements provided to the tribunal, the pub claims Boender was arguing about night shifts, and missed or left early for a number of her shifts. One person claims she lacked energy and punctuality, although McCreary said Boender provided explanations for each instance.
The pub also claims the pub has other employees who are pregnant and have not claimed discrimination.
Discrimination “undermines the value we place on motherhood”
Robyn Durling, communications director for the B.C. Human Rights Counsel, says about nine per cent of the cases his office deals with are related to pregnancy, which falls under the category of gender discrimination.
To be successful in the case, Durling says Boender only has to prove her pregnancy was a factor in her termination; it doesn’t have to be the only reason. Aside from lost wages, he says women can also make claims for compensation of injury to dignity.
Generally, pregnancy discrimination involves women being terminated by their employers after they disclose that they’re expecting, or when they are trying to return to work and find their jobs no longer available. Both scenarios constitute human rights violations, Durling says.
“I think in Canada, we have a fairly forward-looking vision of what motherhood should look like, and what supports we should give women who want to populate the country with new Canadians,” Durling says.
When expecting or new mothers are not supported in the workplace, it “undermines the value we place on motherhood as a culture,” Durling says.
A date has not yet been set for the tribunal hearing, but Durling expects it will be some time in the next year. It will most likely be held in Vernon over the course of a few days, and will involve witnesses being called as in a court trial.
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