- Posted by Angela Chaisson
- On January 5, 2022
In September of 2021, a case decision in the province of British Columbia made a significant development with respect to the rights of trans and non-binary people at work. The judgement will have implications for the law across Canada, including here in Ontario.
The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal found a restaurant and some of its employees in violation of s. 13 of the B.C. Human Rights Code by refusing to use another employee’s correct pronouns. Section 13 specifically bars discrimination based on gender identity or expression among other protected statuses.
The case revolves around non-binary restaurant worker, Jessie Nelson, who was repeatedly intentionally misgendered and called by gendered nicknames in the workplace. Nelson spoke up to management at the restaurant, Buono Osteria, but was told to wait on their concerns. They had informed the restaurant upon hiring that they used they/them pronouns but the bar manager, Brian Gobelle repeatedly ignored their requests and used she/her pronouns along with nicknames like ‘sweetheart’ to refer to them.
Eventually, a tense discussion between Nelson and Gobelle resulted in Nelson being fired. The restaurant told Nelson that they were fired due to insubordination and being too ‘militant’ in regards to their gender identity.
The tribunal found in favour of Nelson’s human rights complaint and that “Mr. Gobelle discriminated against Jessie Nelson in their employment. His use of female pronouns and gendered nicknames demeaned them and undermined their dignity at work… this was connected directly to Jessie Nelson’s gender identity and expression, and constitutes a violation of the Code.” The tribunal further noted in their decision that each of Nelson’s shifts at the restaurant “was a fresh opportunity and occasion for stress, pain, suffering, and humiliation.”
Mr. Gobelle, Buono Osteria, it’s owner and manager were ordered to pay Jessie Nelson a total of $30, 000 in compensation for injury to their dignity, feelings and self-respect.
Buono Osteria was further ordered to include a statement in its employee policies that affirms every employee’s right to be addressed with their correct pronouns and to implement mandatory training for all staff and managers about human rights in the workplace.
Currently, there are no cases before Ontario courts or tribunals in regards to workplace discrimination based on gender identity, but it’s only a matter of time before this issue will be litigated in the province. This case may set a precedent for the considerations and awards in this type of case.