Woman who alleged discrimination over cornrow-style hair wins first legal battle
Published Wednesday, December 5, 2018 2:04PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 5, 2018 7:16PM EST
A hostess who said she faced discrimination over her cornrow braids while working in a Montreal restaurant has scored her first victory in the courts.
Lettia McNickle said she singled out at a downtown Madison’s New York Bar & Grill in March 2015 due to the owner’s dislike of her hairstyle, braided in cornrows, which are worn most commonly by black women.
A white, female manager told her she had to change her hair and also accused her of not conforming to dress code, saying she was required to wear a skirt. McNickle disputed that, saying she was the only employee singled out for the alleged violation.
“I changed my hairstyle. I kept my braids and went to work the next day and she totally lost it publicly in front of customers, in front of other employees, embarrassing me,” she said.
She later saw her hours at the restaurant reduced and eventually cut completely.
The restaurant has until Dec. 21 to give McNickle $15,000 awarded by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission. If they fail to do so, the case will be referred to Quebec’s Human Rights Tribunal.
McNickle said the decision vindicates her and that discrimination over hair is something many women of colour have experienced.
“I just want to let all my black females know that if something is going on, know you have rights in your workplace, in your school – whether it’s your hair or your skin colour. For example, in the restaurant, we served people with braided hair or with afros, so for her to say ‘You can’t work here with your hair like that,’ but you’re serving people with hair like that, it’s contradictory,” she said.
The Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations believes it's the first case of its kind in Canada.
Officials at Madison’s wouldn’t comment on the decision, but in 2015, management said they were unsure what happened between the manager and McNickle and said the company is proud of a diverse workforce and clientele.
“At least now they know and other restaurants know that they can’t get away with something like this,” McNickle said.