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Kilt ban for bus driver was not discriminatory, Ontario rights tribunal rules

A Grand River Transit bus travelling eastbound on King Street West beside the Grand River Hospital ION LRT station in Kitchener.
A Grand River Transit bus travelling eastbound on King Street West beside the Grand River Hospital ION LRT station in Kitchener. Nick Westoll / File / Global News

TORONTO – A bus driver sent home to change out of the kilt he wore to work on a casual Friday was not a victim of anti-Scottish discrimination, Ontario’s human rights tribunal has ruled.

In its decision, the tribunal decided that Tracy Macdonnell had provided no evidence the directive from Grand River Transit in the Region of Waterloo, Ont., was improper.

“The applicant is proud of his ancestry and wears a kilt on special occasions. I find that he has not pointed to any evidence in his testimony to establish that he had the right, protected under the code, to wear a kilt at work or while on duty,” adjudicator Josee Bouchard wrote in her decision.

Macdonnell “has pointed to no evidence in his testimony to establish that he was harassed because of his ancestry,” Bouchard wrote.

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The incident arose on a charity-fundraising Friday in October 2017, when a supervisor told the 14-year driver to change out of his rented kilt into a proper uniform. Macdonnell alleged discrimination because of his Scottish ancestry.

Evidence at a hearing last month showed the bus line had previously made it clear to employees that kilts were off-limits on casual Fridays, despite the relaxed dress code in which some drivers wore jeans or “different coloured shirts.” Kilts, the company said, were “not aligned with the typical bus operator uniform.”

Macdonnell testified the ban, in response to another driver who had previously shown up to work in a kilt, upset him and he wanted to make a point. He said he was proud of his Scottish ancestry, listened to Scottish music and ate haggis. He also said he was married wearing a kilt, although he did not own one.

Macdonnell argued what he wore was akin to wearing a turban for religious reasons or clothing from other countries. He admitted to deliberately defying the no-kilt order so he could press his case.

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“He explained that on casual Fridays, employees wear all sorts of attire, such as shorts and ball caps, and he did not see what was wrong with wearing a kilt,” Bouchard said. “In his view, forbidding employees to wear a kilt while on duty on casual Fridays is clearly discriminatory.”

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Among other things, Macdonnell wanted the tribunal to order transit supervisors to undergo sensitivity training, accept cultural dress as appropriate attire on casual Fridays, and pay him $25,000 to cover the cost of his kilt rental and hurt feelings.

In dismissing the application, Bouchard noted that Macdonnell complied with the order to change and returned to work that day. He was not disciplined and suffered no adverse employment consequences as a result of his initial defiance.

“I believe that wearing a kilt has a special significance for the applicant and it is important for him to wear a kilt for special occasions,” Bouchard said.

However, “the applicant has not established that wearing a kilt, and more specifically wearing a kilt at work, is intricately linked to his ancestry.”