British Columbia

Pregnant waitress allegedly forced to quit an all too common issue, says lawyer

A woman in Vernon, B.C., is taking her former employer to court alleging she was forced to quit her waitressing job because she was pregnant, and her lawyer says the issue is all too common.

Case against the Squires Four Pub in Vernon is being heard at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal

Haylee Boender with her daughter. Boender alleges she was pregnant and waitressing at a Vernon pub when she was forced to quit her job. (Robyn Durling)

A woman in Vernon, B.C., who alleges she was forced to quit her waitressing job because she was pregnant will have her case heard at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, and her lawyer says the issue is all too common. 

According to a recent decision allowing the case to go forward, Haylee Boender had been a server at the Squires Four Pub in Vernon for two months in 2015 when she became pregnant. 

Boender alleges she immediately told her employer, pub manager Serry Massoud, who she says went on to make comments "about her getting bigger and says the customers 'didn't want to see it.'"

She also claims Massoud told her "she had no rights and had to go on maternity leave right away" and called her "just a little girl." 

The Squires Four Pub in Vernon, B.C., is the establishment at the centre of a human rights complaint. (Google Maps)

Boender goes on to allege that the comments increased as her pregnancy progressed, until her doctor recommended she stop working because the stress of the ongoing humiliating treatment could harm her baby — despite her not yet being eligible for maternity benefits.

The pub and Massoud claim Boender had been arguing about night shifts, left early or missed some of her shifts, and "lacked energy and punctuality." 

They also say the pub has other employees who are pregnant who haven't claimed discrimination. 

'These cases are very prevalent'

Robyn Durling is representing Boender in the case. He's also the communications director with the Community Legal Assistance Society.

He says cases like these are increasingly common — especially in the service and manufacturing sectors. 

Durling says about nine per cent of his organization's cases deal either with women who say they were dismissed from work when they disclosed their pregnancy to their employers, or were not given their jobs back when they returned from maternity leave. 

Human rights representative Robyn Durling says discrimination against pregnant women is a common issue in some industries. (CBC)

"The number of cases that have been getting filed have been going up drastically — they've doubled — in the last 10 years," Durling says, adding he wasn't sure of what has caused the increase.

Durling admits that, in some cases, it is reasonable for an employer to dismiss an employee, if accommodating the pregnancy causes undue hardship. 

"That's really a medical question. If the employer believes that someone cannot do their work because they are pregnant, then in fact they should get a medical note that says this person cannot be at work," he says. 

"An employer is entitled to get productivity out of somebody but they also need to accommodate somebody."

Changing perspectives

Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association, wasn't familiar with this case but agreed that it was unacceptable for an employer to not abide by labour laws.

"These are legal responsibilities, so any business that doesn't want to follow those rules, in our opinion, shouldn't be in this business," he says. 

Tostenson says a staff shortage at restaurants across the province means businesses need to treat employees fairly now more than ever. 

The head of B.C.'s Restaurant and Food Services Association, Ian Tostenson, says restaurants who don't follow labour laws shouldn't be in the business. (CBC)

Perspectives on pregnant women in the sector have changed over the years, he says, and the issue isn't one he's come across in his 12 years leading his association. 

"Is this wide-spread in our industry? I'd say no," he says.

"I'd say you're not going to see this in the large chains, which is the majority of the restaurants in the province."

Neither Massoud nor the Squires Four Pub responded to requests for comment. 

None of the allegations has been proven at the tribunal. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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