Zara employee accuses store of discrimination over her hairstyle

An employee at a Zara store in Toronto's east end says she will likely quit her job and file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission after managers gave her a hard time about her hair.

Company says it does not tolerate any form of discrimination

Cree Ballah models the hairstyle she was wearing the day she says two managers at the Zara store she works at tried to change her hair in full view of other employees. (Cree Ballah)

An employee at a Zara store in Toronto's east end said she will likely quit her job and file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission after managers gave her a hard time about her hair.

Cree Ballah, 20, said she showed up for work at Zara's Scarborough Town Centre location on March 23 with her hair in box braids gathered in the back. 

One manager asked her to take the braids out of the bunch and returned later with a second manager, Ballah told CBC News.

"They took me outside of the store and they said, 'We're not trying to offend you, but we're going for a clean professional look with Zara and the hairstyle you have now is not the look for Zara,'" Ballah said.

Then, she said, out in the busy mall where other Zara employees could see them, the managers proceeded to try to "fix" her hair. 

"It was very humiliating... it was unprofessional," she said.

It's not the first time a large chain has been accused of discriminating against an employee because of her hair.

Last month, CBC News reported that Akua Agyemfra — a 20-year-old server at a Jack Astor's Bar and Grill — was sent home because her hair was in a bun.

Agyemfra came forward after an investigation by CBC's Marketplace found waitresses working for several Canadian restaurant chains felt pressured to dress in a sexually provocative manner on the job. 

Experts interviewed by Marketplace said dress codes at those restaurants might contravene women's human rights.

Ballah said she left the mall hurt and upset. She filed an official complaint with the company's human resources department, claiming discrimination. 
Ballah says the two managers described the braids she was wearing as "not the look for Zara." (Cree Ballah)

"My hair type is also linked to my race, so to me, I felt like it was direct discrimination against my ethnicity in the sense of what comes along with it," said Ballah, who describes herself as bi-racial.

"My hair type is out of my control and I try to control it to the best of my ability, which wasn't up to standard for Zara."

Ballah did meet with company officials, but was not satisfied with how the issue was handled.

In a written statement, Zara said it "engaged directly the employee on this matter and respect the privacy of those discussions."

The statement said the company is diverse and multicultural and does not tolerate any form of discrimination.

It also said Zara has no formal policy regarding employees' hairstyles, just that they look professional.

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