The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal says a Vancouver juice bar manager discriminated against his 13-year-old Black employee when he accused her of stealing from their cash register, without any evidence.
The young teen, identified as “AB” in a decision released last Friday, was awarded $27,862 for injury to her dignity, lost wages and fees associated with filing the human rights complaint.
AB was a new employee at Heirloom juice bar and restaurant, just off South Granville Street, in September of 2019. It was her first job and she had recently moved from dish washing in back to serving customers and running the juice bar cash register up front.
During a shift on Sept. 14, AB testified she was suddenly confronted by her manager Nicholas Stone, who accused her of stealing cash, called her “untrustworthy” and said “We can’t have thieves working for the company.” Stone disputed saying such things, but agreed he spoke to AB about cash going missing during her shifts.
AB said she was scared and uncomfortable and began to cry. She called her mother, who set up a meeting the following day with AB, Stone and Heirloom’s owner and president William Greer.
Greer testified to the Human Rights Tribunal that he expressed during that meeting that cash shortages were usually just mistakes on the behalf of young or inexperienced workers.
“The last thing we think is theft, usually there’s a plausible explanation,” he told the tribunal, saying new employees sometimes enter a menu item or gift card incorrectly.
Tribunal Member Amber Prince wrote in her decision she found it odd then that Stone had apparently made such a big deal out of it. Prince also noted that there were always one to four other employees on shift with AB, but Stone didn’t question any of them about the missing cash.
He also didn’t investigate any other explanations for why there may be a cash error before or after confronting AB, Prince found. And Stone didn’t make an effort to apologize to AB or smooth over their relationship after the meeting.
Instead, AB said in the days following she felt Stone was watching her especially closely. AB said Stone wouldn’t let her work the cash register anymore, instead assigning her to tasks in the back of the store. She said the apparent demotion left her feeling humiliated.
Stone disagreed with AB’s testimony and said she was the one that chose not to work the cash register anymore, but Prince found it was more likely AB was telling the truth.
During that period, Stone also refused to provide AB with a reference letter when she requested one. He said she had forgotten to wear her work shirt and was setting a bad example for newer employees.
On Sept. 25, AB handed in her letter of resignation, which read in part: “…unfortunately I cannot continue to work there because I don’t feel safe, welcomed or comfortable because it’s impossible for me to work in an environment where my manager doesn’t trust me…”
In her ruling, Prince wrote, “AB’s loss of employment directly flowed from her poisoned relationship with her direct manager, Mr. Stone.”
Prince then went on to examine existing human rights law on the biases Black women and girls often face.
“Black people (are) singled out for criticism at work disproportionate to actual work performance; Black women and girls (are) unfairly characterized as “angry”, rude, or having a bad attitude; women and girls (are) unfairly expected to smile and appear pleasing at work; Black people, especially Black girls, (are) unfairly expected to be docile and compliant; and Black children (are) treated more like adults,” she wrote.
She said while Stone may not have intentionally discriminated against AB, her race and sex “were at least factors in Mr. Stone’s treatment of her.”
“None of us are immune from operating on unconscious stereotypes, given that such stereotypes continue to seep into our collective psyche…,” Prince wrote.
She said Heirloom, as the employer legally responsible for providing AB with a safe and healthy work environment, also discriminated against her.
Heirloom and Stone were ordered to pay AB $27,862 and to never discriminate against an employee again.