New Brunswick

Fredericton mom Sacha DeWolfe says spa not allowing baby is discrimination

A Fredericton woman who alleges she was discriminated against by spa staff who turned her away because she brought her infant son with her wants changes to the New Brunswick Human Rights Act.

Owner of Avalon spa says children aren't allowed for safety reasons, and out of respect for clients

Sacha DeWolfe of Fredericton says she felt discriminated against when Avalon SalonSpa refused to serve her because she had her son Lennon with her. (Facebook)

A Fredericton woman who alleges she was discriminated against by spa staff who turned her away because she brought her infant son with her wants changes to the New Brunswick Human Rights Act.

Sacha DeWolfe, 37, says she was told by staff at Avalon SalonSpa's uptown location on Trinity Avenue that she couldn't bring her baby, who was five months old at the time, inside for his safety.

She feels she was discriminated against, and doesn't want other mothers or fathers to go through the same experience at any service provider.

New Brunswick is the only province that doesn't include family status as a grounds of discrimination under the Human Rights Act.

But the legislation is under review and amendments could be coming by next year, when the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission celebrates its 50th anniversary, according to the director.

The changes can't come soon enough for DeWolfe.

I was mistakenly under the impression, I guess, that I could bring my child to a service and expect to be served.- Sacha DeWolfe

She said that on Feb. 5, she walked into the spa for her eyebrow waxing appointment, carrying her son Lennon, who was sleeping in his car seat. But, DeWolfe added, the front desk employee wouldn't let them in.

"I said, 'Are you kidding me?' And she said, 'No, we don't allow children in here.' … So anyway, I just looked at her shocked and she said, 'Did you want to rebook?' And I said, 'Are you kidding me?' And I walked out."

DeWolfe, who is on maternity leave, says she has limited child-care options.

"So I have to bring my child with me everywhere, which in no way is a burden to me, but I was mistakenly under the impression, I guess, that I could bring my child to a service and expect to be served." 

She says she is not alone in her feelings.

After posting about her experience on social media, she heard from other mothers who had also been refused, including one woman whose 12-year-old daughter felt responsible for ruining her mother's day.

"I'm just lucky my son was only five months old at the time, so he didn't understand that I was told basically I could not come in because of him," she said.

"But the 12-year-old girl and the nine-year old children that are hearing this, you know, what message is that sending them?"

Women's rights 'uppermost' for owner

Peggy Jewett, owner of Avalon, says children are not allowed in the spa area for "safety reasons, No. 1."

"There's hot wax, there's sharp tweezers, there's a whole bunch of things," she said.

"Even when you're doing a pedicure and you clip a nail, like, nails fly. I mean, we've had people get nails in their eyes. You know, things happen. It's a legit safety thing."

Children also aren't allowed out of consideration for other clients, who pay to have "a quiet service," such as a facial or massage, said Jewett.

'I would offend our other clients if somebody had a baby up there crying, or a two-year-old running around.- Peggy Jewett , Avalon SalonSpa

"We have dimmed lights, we have soft music playing and … I would offend our other clients if somebody had a baby up there crying, or a two-year-old running around."

Some of those clients are young mothers looking for a break, she stressed.

"Women's rights, and young mother's rights and respects in society are uppermost in my thoughts at all times," said Jewett, noting she is the mother of two daughters and employs about 90 women at three locations in the Fredericton area.

"It's huge to us," she said.

"We under no circumstance meant to insult anybody, but we stick by our policy."

Children allowed as clients

DeWolfe isn't convinced about Jewett's safety claims, noting Avalon's website indicates it accepts children as paying clients, if they are accompanied by an adult.

"Children: We love them and are happy to serve them as well," the website states.

"However, we ask that they be brought to Avalon only if they have an appointment."

DeWolfe said: "I guarantee you that my son's safety is first and foremost in my life.

"I wouldn't bring him into somewhere I thought would be unsafe."

If Avalon is considered unsafe for children, DeWolfe argues, it could be equally unsafe for adults, and changes should be made to ensure a safe environment.

Spa policies wide ranging

Other spas, such as Merle Norman & Day Spa in Fredericton, allow children.

"We try to make it convenient for young mothers to bring their child with them because they don't need a babysitter for just a short service," said owner Anne-Marie Desjardins. "And they're allowed to bring their strollers in or carry their child anywhere on the premises."

Asked about any safety concerns, Desjardins said children remain under the supervision of their parent while at the spa.

"So there shouldn't be any concern there. I mean, they watch their own child."

As for any concerns about disrupting other clients, Desjardins says mothers who bring young children with them are usually only there for quick service, such as eyebrow or lip waxing.

For services that take more time, such as a manicure, the spa provides colouring books and crayons so a child can sit beside his or her mother, she said.

"We've even looked after the children sometimes if they cried."

But Avalon is not alone. 

Nakai Spa, in Saint John, for example, excludes children under age 12 from the spa area "for their safety and the comfort of other guests," according to its website.

"However, Nakai offers Princess and Prince Days every six weeks, where children of all ages are welcomed and treasured," it states.

DeWolfe suggested Jewett also consider having a designated day and time specifically for mothers with children at Avalon.

The spa could create a separate area for mothers with children, which could address any safety concerns, along with any concerns about disrupting other clients, suggested DeWolfe.

Jewett said she may consider DeWolfe's recommendations down the road.

"We're in business to serve the public, we're in business to meet our clients' needs and expectations — and exceed them."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.