The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has heard some offbeat complaints in its recent history, including a complaint about Albino Rhino beer and a waiter who said he was fired for being too French.
Complaints have to be made within six months and many are resolved with mediation. They only proceed to a hearing if the tribunal rules that the complainant has a reasonable chance of succeeding.
Here are some greatest hits:
The Albino Rhino beer summit
In 2012, Ikponwosa Ero, a woman with albinism, launched a human rights complaint against Earl’s Restaurants in Vancouver because it had a beer called Albino Rhino on tap. The product had been on offer for 25 years at that point.
The company claimed the rhyming name was intended to be “whimsical and fun” and denote that the beer was “rare and special,” like a white rhino, and was not intended to be discriminatory. People with albinism, which is genetic, are completely or partially missing the natural pigment in their skin, hair and eyes. They’re susceptible to vision problems and skin cancer. In some cultures around the world, they face threats of violence, discrimination and even murder. Ero originally went through the advocacy organization where she worked to try to get Earl’s to drop the name, but was unsuccessful.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal agreed to hold a hearing, but instead the two parties managed to talk things out among themselves and Earl’s voluntarily agreed to phase out the branding. The restaurant put out a statement in early 2013 stating, “Like many Canadians we knew very little about the condition or the very real discrimination persons with albinism experience, both in Canada and around the world,” and agreed, “Persons with albinism are a stigmatized group that face prejudice and exclusion in many areas of Canadian society.”
Not rude, just French
When Guillame Rey, a server at a Vancouver Milestones restaurant, was fired from his job for rudeness in August 2017, he claimed it wasn’t his fault — he’s French.
The professional manner Rey’s co-workers called “combative” and his employer described as “rude and disrespectful” was simply “direct and expressive” and totally within the norms in his home country of France, Rey claimed. He said firing him amounted to discrimination on the basis of place of origin — a creative interpretation of section 13 of the province’s Human Rights Code.
Last year, the tribunal denied the restaurant’s application to have the case dismissed. It’s expected to proceed to a hearing.
Is being called ‘creepy’ sexist and racist?
Mokua Gichuru, a man whose use of the B.C. court system has been legally limited because of his long-established habit to sue over anything and everything, complained to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in 2016 because a Vancouver swing dancing club banned him for being “creepy.” This amounts to “blatant stereotyping” of older, black men interacting with younger women, and is discrimination on the basis of age, sex and race, Gichuru claimed.
Though the tribunal has declined to hear the case twice, it may yet proceed to a hearing, as Gichuru said that directors of the club banned him from events in retaliation for his threat to make a human rights complaint.
‘Reorganizing her out of the workplace’
Many recent cases have pertained to issues of disability accommodation in the workplace. For example, in July the tribunal heard the case of Norma Graham, a woman with a mental disability who had worked for the payroll department at B.C. Transit since 1991. In 2014, the organization made the switch to an open-concept office, and Graham complained that she was no longer able to concentrate on her work because of noisy conversations taking place near her desk. She asked to have her workstation moved and was denied. She also provided a medical note, but ended up taking a two-year medical leave soon after. When she returned to work, she was shuffled between various positions. Graham alleged that she no longer received the benefits she had at her old job. BC Transit eventually decided she would not be able to return to the payroll department. Graham ended up taking medical leave again. The tribunal ruled that B.C. Transit had done enough to accommodate Graham. Though the decision states that it was “unfortunate” that Graham felt her employer was not acting in good faith, and instead “reorganizing her out of the workplace,” the complaint was dismissed.