East Side Mario's waitress complains about manager's demand that she wear a bra
Timmins case raises question of whether an employer can control female workers' underwear
A waitress at East Side Mario's in Timmins, Ont., claims a female manager unfairly demanded she wear a bra at work.
"It's a violation of my rights as a person to dictate my undergarments," says Geneviève Loiselle, who started working at the chain restaurant in May.
"It was a really sexist thing to do."
Loiselle is also upset over how the situation was dealt with. She alleges the manager took her aside before her shift on Sept. 2 and told her she needed to wear a bra as part of her work uniform.
"She like literally was looking right at my breasts and said, 'Well, Gen, I can clearly see that you're not wearing a bra and that you have nipple piercings,'" says Loiselle.
The 22-year-old describes herself as smaller-chested and finds going braless more comfortable. She believes it's every woman's right to choose if she wants to wear the undergarment.
"Some men have larger breasts than I do. You would never impose [a bra] on a male so why would you impose that on a female?"
Loiselle claims when she presented this argument to her manager, she was told, "'People don't look at women's bodies the same way they look at men's bodies.'"
CBC News asked East Side Mario's owner, Cara Operations, about Loiselle's allegations and its policy on wearing a bra on the job.
"We were recently made aware of this situation and are investigating this matter," the company replied in an email.
Loiselle says the manager also told her that two customers and a co-worker had complained about her braless appearance, and that East Side Mario's is a family restaurant.
"I'm not prancing my breasts around," argues the waitress, who wears an East Side Mario's T-shirt as part of her uniform and believes it provides adequate coverage. "I understand if I had a see-through shirt, but my shirt's black and it's all the way up to my neck."
Loiselle says the manager also told her that wearing a bra is part of the restaurant's dress code, but when she asked to see the policy, she found it actually mentioned nothing about bras.
"As if you would impose servers to wear a thong. No you can't do that, it's undergarments," says Loiselle. "I just felt judged from the start."
The waitress says the next day, the manager backtracked and denied she ordered Loiselle to wear a bra, instead insisting she just wanted to know why the employee didn't wear one.
The manager also told her the district manager and head office would now deal with the matter, says Loiselle, who also contacted head office to complain about the situation.
"I really don't feel that comfortable here," she said last week while she waited for a decision on the issue. She is currently off work until Sept. 19, because the restaurant is closed for renovations.
On Monday, after the publication of this story, Loiselle informed CBC News that the owner of the restaurant and a manager have informed her that she won't have to wear a bra at work. She says she's happy about the news but still unhappy about the way her workplace previously approached her about the issue.
"There was still an apology that could have been made," she says.
This isn't the first time a female employee has publicly complained about having to wear a bra at work. In June, Kate Hannah made headlines in the U.K. when she alleged on Facebook that she was fired from her job at a bar for refusing to wear one.
"I am absolutely disgusted, with the unprofessionalism, and blatant lack of respect for my right as a woman to wear whatever makes me personally comfortable," posted Hannah.
The bar in question — Bird and Beer in Beverley, England — has denied the allegations.
Bras and the law
So can a Canadian workplace mandate that female employees wear a bra?
Case law is trending toward the notion that employers can't mandate gender-specific dress unless there's a non-discriminatory, justifiable reason for doing so, says labour and employment lawyer Morgan Rowe.
"If an employer is asking you to wear something and it's a dress code requirement being placed on you because of your gender, that's probably going to run some difficulties with human rights law," says Rowe, with the Ottawa firm Raven Law.
She points to a 2005 case where the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found discrimination on the basis of sex because a bar required female servers to wear a bikini top.
It's difficult to determine if requiring female workers to wear a bra would also be considered discrimination, says Rowe. "It would come down to the specifics of the job and why it is that the employer thinks that it's problematic that an individual isn't wearing a bra."
Loiselle believes there's no problem with her going braless at work. "When it violates my values, then I have to take a stand," she says.