$14,500 ruling in favour of ex-Montreal hostess alleging racial discrimination over cornrow braids

A former Montreal woman has won her case before the Quebec Human Rights Commission which ruled that the downtown restaurant where she worked imposed discriminatory working conditions on her related to her cornrow braids.

The commission ordered Madisons New York Grill & Bar to pay Lettia McNickle $14,500 in damages.

McNickle started working as a hostess at the restaurant in October 2014 when she was 19.

In its ruling, the commission said the evidence showed that the owner of the restaurant told McNickle to change her hairstyle even though it respected regulations saying she had to be neat, well-groomed and professional-looking.

The commission also ruled the evidence showed the owner told McNickle to wear a skirt when other hostesses could wear skirts or pants.

McNickle said her working conditions deteriorated after that and she lost her job in March 2015.

McNickle, who is black, spoke out about the case publicly, saying she was a victim of racial discrimination.

Quebec Human Rights Commission orders Madisons New York Grill and Bar downtown to pay ex-black employee $14,500 in damages, ruling it imposed discriminatory working conditions on her, in part due to her braided cornrows. #CJAD800 pic.twitter.com/9Mf6nlNSqN

— Shuyee Lee (@sleeCJAD) December 5, 2018

The restaurant's head office had issued an apology at the time but withdrew from mediation, sending the case to the commission.

If the restaurant refuses to issue compensation, the case will go before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal.

McNickle has since moved to Toronto, partly because of this incident.

McNickel said the commission has sent a strong message.

"I feel proud. I just want to let all my other black females know that if something is going on, know you have rights. In your workplace, in your school, anywhere, you have rights - whether it's your hair or your skin colour," McNickle told reporters.

Fo Niemi, executive director of CRARR (Center for Research-Action on Race Relations) which was helping McNickle in the case, said it "raises the issue of black women's hair and discrimination based on the intersectionality of race and gender, which is often litigated in the U.S. but rarely in Canada."

"It would be the first time in Quebec, at least, that this form of discrimination is recognized under the law."