Kalia Douglas-Micallef was eager to spend months, and possibly years, working at a Freshii location in Scarborough.
But after only two days of training, she said she was fired because she is hard of hearing.
“[The manager] sat me down and he said, “You’re a nice girl but your responses are delayed and you don’t have it,” said Douglas-Micallef.
“I think that’s such an unacceptable remark. I think it’s absolutely unacceptable. How can you say that knowing I wear hearing aids?”
Douglas-Micallef said she has profound hearing loss in both ears and has been wearing hearing aids since she was 10 months old. She said she felt targeted by the restaurant’s manager over the span of the two shifts she worked on April 18 and 20, adding she didn’t have a chance to prove herself.
“When I first started training, he made comments like, ‘Oh, we’re going to have a problem,'” said Douglas-Micallef.
“I only took one order on cash throughout my training. I didn’t even have a chance, I’m not going to memorize all the ingredients in two days.”
Douglas-Micallef then sent out a tweet, recapping her alleged conversation with her former manager and asking for an apology from the fast food chain. The tweet went viral, collecting thousands of retweets, likes and responses.
“I found the response to be overwhelming, but also very empowering because I am very used to this level of discrimination and ignorance coming from management and the workforce,” said Douglas-Micallef.
“I was very empowered. My ego was roaring to be honest because I was like, ‘People really care.'”
She said was contacted by Freshii CEO Matthew Corrin in what she calls a very positive conversation. She said Corrin offered her a job at another Freshii location.
“I thought that call went very well. I thought that was great because I do need another job,” she said.
Douglas-Micallef requested the weekend to make her decision, but said she felt pressured by Corrin on Sunday to send out a positive tweet about Freshii before he was scheduled to speak to media later that day.
She tweeted out that she is satisfied by Freshii’s response to the matter, but Douglas-Micallef said she quickly took it down because ‘it felt forced.’
“He sent a … text that he’s going to the press by 4 p.m. and I should update my tweet and I panicked in the moment,” said Douglas-Micallef.
“But then I was like… why should I give Freshii publicity after this is what they did? I never heard whether the manager was going to be held accountable for his remark.”
However, Corrin claimed in a statement to Global News that there were other factors involved in Douglas-Micallef’s termination.
“After speaking with Kalia and following up to audit the store and circumstances, including video footage, I satisfied myself that this termination was done for valid reasons, none of which were related to anti-ableism in any form.”
Corrin said he doesn’t plan on getting into the specifics about why Douglas-Micallef was terminated because he doesn’t “want to put things on the record for her as a young person.”
Douglas-Micallef said she is now planning to take action and bring the case to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario with her lawyer, Saron Gebresellassi.
“She has a case,” said Gebresellassi.
“Her position is that she was terminated unjustly and in contravention of the Ontario Human Rights Code.”
Douglas-Micallef said she has been fired from six jobs in the past year and believes her ‘profound hearing loss’ played a factor in all of those cases. Her lawyer said she was more than qualified for those jobs and should not have been terminated.
“Kalia is a really, really great worker,” said Gebresellassi.
“She’s smart. She did university studies at Ryerson University, so she is high skilled. She was working at Freshii, which is a low-skilled position. There is no reason why she shouldn’t be able to hold down a job at Freshii.”
Meanwhile, Douglas-Micallef said it’s important to her that she sees this through to the very end.
“It’s really unfortunate what’s been going on. I need to fight for myself because it’s not just for me, it’s for my community,” she said.