$100k fine for “intolerable” workplace, religious discrimination

Forcing Muslim workers to eat pork, mocking their language and threatening to replace them with "white" workers sees a Toronto business facing hefty damages.

$100k fine for “intolerable” workplace, religious discrimination

A Toronto business must pay damages of almost $100,000 to three Muslim employees who were forced to eat pork, work religious holidays and threatened with replacement by “white” staff.

The owners of Le Papillon on the Park made the workplace “intolerable” for the applicants, Abdul Malik, Mohammed Islam, and Arif Hossain, according to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario decision. They were awarded a combined total in damages of almost $100,000.

The three owners, Paul and Danielle Bigue and their son Stephen, will also be required to take Human Rights Training and to put Human Rights Code cards at the entranceway to the restaurant and in the kitchen.

The decision found that the owners on a number of occasions encouraged or forced the Muslim workers to eat pork, ostensibly to test potential menu items. However, there were non-Muslim kitchen staff who could have tasted the food instead. On one occasion Hossain was made to try soup during the fasting-period of Ramadan. He had taken steps to ensure the soup was good and did not make any changes after tasting it.

Danielle Bigue told the staff she wanted to “to clean the sh*t from the kitchen” and replace them with “white” staff, and on at least one occasion told the staff “you’re crazy people” after Hossain refused to eat pork. She also mocked the men for speaking Bengali to each other, even though Islam spoke little English and needed instructions.

Tribunal vice-chair Judith Keene said the restaurant owners retaliated against the men after they questioned the mistreatment, which resulted in the loss of their jobs.

The owners denied all accusations, but the tribunal found that on balance of the evidence and statements it was likely that most of the applicant’s claims were accurate. The Bigues are making a reconsideration request.

Former head chef Malik was very relieved the nightmare was over. “I can move on with my life,” he said.

Danielle admitted she sometimes raised her voice in the kitchen but denied saying anything offensive.

Lawyer Kate Sellar, who represented the three employees, told The Star there were many cases that came up at the tribunal and entail racism. Most involve a subtle form of discrimination, she said.

“In this case, there were allegations of direct discrimination, comments that were made and actions taken that were quite shocking,” she said. “Really shocking.”


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