Forcing Jewish hair stylist to take Saturdays off is grounds for rights complaint: Quebec commission

Quebec’s has decided there is sufficient evidence to support a complaint by a Jewish hairstylist who claims his employer, the owner of a Snowdon beauty salon who is also Jewish, discriminated against him on the basis of his by not letting him work on Saturdays.

The commission has recommended that Spa Orazen and its owner Iris Gressy compensate hair stylist Richard Zilberg $17,500 in damages ($12,500 for loss of income and $5,000 for moral damages) and that Gressy pay an additional $2,500 for punitive damages to Zilberg for intentional violation of his civil rights.

Zilberg worked at Spa Orazen throughout the fall of 2011 and winter of 2012 for about 30 hours a week, including Saturdays. But that spring, he says his boss, Iris Gressy, began to suggest that he should not be working Saturdays because it is Shabbat, the traditional day of rest for observant Jews.

In July 2012, Zilberg says he was told he would no longer be scheduled on Saturdays, the busiest day of his work week, although the salon remained open Saturdays and non-Jewish employees were allowed to work Saturdays. Another Jewish employee was told she could not work on Saturdays, he claims.

I come from a long line of Jewish people and I love my faith but it is 2015 and I can choose how I want to practise

“I come from a long line of Jewish people and I love my faith but it is 2015 and I can choose how I want to practise,” Zilberg said at a news conference called by the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR), a civic rights organization that brought the case to the Human Rights Commission on Zilberg’s behalf.

Zilberg told some of his regular Saturday clients that his employer would not let him work on Shabbat because he is Jewish. One of those clients, who is Jewish, complained to the owner of the salon on Aug. 15, 2012 that the policy was “mishegas”, a Yiddish word for “crazy”. An argument ensued and Zilberg was fired on the spot, he said.

He eventually got a job at a nearby salon, Intercoupe Coiffure and Spa on Décarie Blvd., but he worked fewer hours and had to rebuild his clientele from scratch.

In December 2012, Zilberg decided to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, with the help of CRARR.

“I couldn’t let go of it. Every night I would go to bed and I’d be angry,” He said. “They took from me my choice to practise my faith as I see fit.”

Postmedia NewsPostmedia NewsThe Quebec commission has recommended that Spa Orazen and its owner Iris Gressy compensate hair stylist Richard Zilberg $17,500 in damages.

A commission investigator examined the complaint, and the Commission determined that the evidence obtained was sufficient to submit the case to a court of law. The Commission recommended that Spa Orazen and Gressy compensate Zilberg, rather than let the case proceed to the Human Rights Tribunal.

The respondents had until Oct. 23, 2015 to compensate Zilberg, to avoid a court case.

“That didn’t happen so we’ve been advised by the Human Rights Commission lawyers that the case will go to the Human Rights Tribunal,” said Fo Niemi, executive director of CRARR.

The Human Rights Tribunal is a specialized tribunal of Court of Quebec judges and assessors which has jurisdiction to hear and rule on complaints concerning discrimination prohibited under the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. A lawyer from the Human Rights Commission will now represent Zilberg at the Tribunal.

Reached at her salon Tuesday, Gressy told the Montreal Gazette she fired Zilberg because he was irresponsible. She claims she did not ban him from working Saturdays because he was Jewish but because he bickered with another employee who worked Saturdays.

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“I can’t be racist against this man because I’m Jewish myself,” she said, adding that she herself sometimes works Saturdays.

She said she will not pay the recommended compensation. “Why would I pay for something I am being falsely accused of? I am going to court. I’m going to fight this.”

Zilberg said he may have been late for a shift or two in the ten months he worked at the salon, but said he was not fired for being irresponsible.

“It bothers me that she doesn’t acknowledge that I was forbidden because of being Jewish to be in there on Saturdays to work … I was fired after a client insulted her because of this policy,” he said.

Niemi noted that the case can be resolved out of court at any time. If the Human Rights Tribunal rules that discrimination has occurred, the Tribunal can impose whatever compensation or remedy it sees fit.

About Michelle Lalonde, Postmedia News