Four years after a young Montreal woman was sent home from work for having braids in her hair, the Quebec Human Rights Commission has ruled she was a victim of racial and gender discrimination.
The owner of Madisons New York Bar and Grill in downtown Montreal has been ordered to pay the 23-year-old $14,500 in damages.
“She took me aside personally and told me she didn’t want that kind of hairstyle in her establishment,” Lettia McNickle said, while fighting back tears.
“Now that today it actually came to this [decision], I feel proud.”
McNickle recalls the distress she felt the day she was sent home by her boss in November 2014 and hopes the commission’s ruling will serve as a lesson to other employers.
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McNickle’s mother, who worked as a hairdresser for two decades, claims it’s a victory for all black women.
“I just want to encourage other black women out there to be proud of who you are, from your afro hair to your curly hair, whether you want to straighten it out, it doesn’t define you,” Huelette McNickle said.
“Your conduct, your character, your work ethic, your attitude, that’s what defines you.”
The Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR) has represented McNickle since the beginning.
Executive Director Fo Niemi claims the decision is a first in Canada in the way it addresses gender and racial discrimination of black women and their hair.
He said he hopes the restaurant reviews its policy on equal opportunity.
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“They have to review their policies and their way of doing things to recognize, among other things, a black woman’s rights to be how she wants to look,” Niemi said.
Madisons’ head office did not return Global News’ request for comment.
The franchisee in question, Roulla Kyriacou, insists she is not racist and employs people of all backgrounds, adding she is a very passionate person.
The decision is not binding; if Kyriacou refuses to pay the $14,500 in damages by Dec. 21, the case will proceed to the Human Rights Tribunal.