JEWISH EMPLOYER IMPOSED RELIGION-BASED RESTRICTION ON JEWISH EMPLOYEE, ORDERED TO PAY $20,000
Montreal, November 10, 2015 — A Jewish hairstylist, who was banned from working on Saturdays by his Jewish employer and fired for speaking to clients about it, has won his case before the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission.
In October 2011, the owners of Spa Orazen hired Mr. Richard Zilberg, a man of Jewish faith, as a hairstylist and colorist. At Spa Orazen, Mr. Zilberg worked an average of 30 hours per week, including Saturdays.
In July 2012, Mr. Zilberg was told by Spa Orazen's owners, who were also Jewish, that he was no longer allowed to work on Saturdays because he is Jewish and that Jewish people are not permitted to work on Shabbat. However, while Mr. Zilberg identifies as Jewish and considers himself Jewish spiritually, working on Shabbat did not violate his personal religious values. He considered it unacceptable that his employers imposed their religious beliefs on him and reduced his work hours.
Moreover, Mr. Zilberg questioned why his employers' business was open on Shabbat, if Jewish people were prohibited from working on that day. He was told that the business can open on Saturdays if the profits made on Shabbat are given to charity. When he questioned why the change in policy as there was no prior restriction on Saturdays, he was told not to tell anyone about this new policy, and to only say that it was his day off. He grudgingly complied in order not to lose his job.
The employer's policy on Saturday work restrictions did not apply to other non-Jewish employees. Another Jewish employee saw her hours cut down to reduce her work on Saturdays.
Finding the restriction unlawful and unfair, Mr. Zilberg spoke to several Jewish customers about it, some of whom then expressed their disapproval of the policy with the owners. In August 2012, he was fired.
CRARR filed a complaint of religious discrimination on Mr. Zilberg's behalf with the Human Rights Commission in December 2012. On October 6, 2015, the Commission released its decision in which it upheld the complaint and recommended that Mr. Zilberg be compensated $17,500 in damages from Spa Orazen and its main owner, Iris Gressy, which comprised of $12,500 for material damages of loss of income and other hardship, and $5,000 for moral damages.
An additional $2,500 was also demanded from the owner, for punitive damages for intentional violation of Mr. Zilberg's civil rights.
“I do not accept discrimination of any kind against anyone, because it has always been my personal values, ” said Mr. Zilberg.
The firing left Mr. Zilberg in financial hardship for a period of time while he had to look for work and rebuild his clientele base. It also deeply affected his health, conscience and self-esteem.
“When I as a Jew am discriminated by another Jew, to the point of losing my job, income and dignity, that is completely intolerable. There is no excuse for discrimination based on religion even if that person is of the same faith,” he added.
Since the respondents did not comply with the Commission's decision requiring them to pay Mr. Zilberg by October 23, 2015, the case will now go to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal.
It will be one of the very few cases involving Jewish individuals as victims of discrimination that have been brought before Tribunal in the last twenty years.
“This case illustrates an employer's legal obligation not to impose its religious belief and practice on an employee, even if the employee is of the same faith,” said CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi.