Sports Bar Must Pay Damages After Firing Pregnant Waitress

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
An Ontario sports bar was recently ordered to pay nearly $20,000 in damages to a former waitress after the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) found that she was terminated due to her pregnancy. This decision reaffirms the rights of waitress who become pregnant to continue working in their jobs.
The former employee, Ashley McKenna, had been a part-time waitress at Local Heroes sports bar for nine months before there was a change in management and a new, more form-fitting dress code was implemented. Ms. McKenna was visibly pregnant at the time, and expressed concerns that the new uniform would highlight her pregnancy. Management agreed that she would not have to wear the new uniform; however, after this conversation they did not schedule her for any additional shifts, and later sent her a Record of Employment indicating that she had quit.
Sports Bar Must Pay Damages After Discrimination
Ms. McKenna brought a complaint to the HRTO alleging that she was fired on the basis of her sex (on account of being pregnant). The HRTO found that that her employer viewed her pregnancy as being “inconsistent with their [new] branding efforts,” and that her pregnancy was the reason for her termination. Ms. McKenna’s employer had discriminated against her by refusing to give her work and then terminating her.
The HRTO ordered that the sports bar must pay damages of $2848 for lost wages, and an additional $17,000 for injury to her feelings, sense of dignity, and self-respect. Managerial staffs at Local Heroes were also ordered to complete an on-line Human Rights training program within 30 days.
The Ontario Human Rights Code
The Ontario Human Rights Code protects employees from termination on the basis of several prohibited grounds, including sex and pregnancy. Violations of the Code are tried at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario rather than the courts, and the HRTO has the power to, and regularly does, make awards that are victim-friendly and bear little resemblance to those that a court would make. This case is a good example, with the former employee receiving $17,000 for what is essentially pain and suffering despite an extremely short tenure and a comparatively small award for lost wages. To avoid potentially serious consequences at the HRTO, employers should ensure that they understand the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Code – for example, that discrimination based on “sex” includes pregnancy – and ensure that they are in strict compliance with all relevant human rights legislation, especially when it comes time to terminate an employee.

This post was guest-authored by Nathan Rayan