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Montreal, July 13, 2017 — The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal has ruled in favor of a Jewish hairstylist, Richard Zilberg, who was banned from working on Saturdays by his Jewish employer and fired for speaking to clients about the restriction.

In a 16-page bilingual decision issued on June 27, 2017, Justice Yvan Nolet orders Spa Orazen (now Spa Liv Zen) and owner Iris Gressy to jointly pay Zilberg six months of lost wages (equivalent to $6,006), and $4,000 in moral damages. The Tribunal also orders Gressy to pay Zilberg an additional $2,500 in punitive damages due to her role in violating Zilberg’s rights.

In October 2011, the owners of Spa Orazen hired Zilberg, who is Jewish, as a haircutter and colorist. At Spa Orazen, Zilberg worked an average of 30 hours per week, including Saturdays.

In July 2012, 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 Sabbath. However, while Zilberg identifies as Jewish and considers himself Jewish spiritually, working on Sabbath did not violate his personal religious values. He considered it unacceptable that his employers imposed their religious beliefs on him.

Moreover, Zilberg questioned why his employers' business was open on Sabbath, 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 Sabbath 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 to keep his job.

The employers' Saturday policy affected Jewish employees while work restrictions did not apply non-Jewish employees.

Finding the restriction unlawful and unfair, 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 for talking about the policy to clients. The loss of employment 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.

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 upheld the complaint and recommends that he be compensated for $12,500 for material damages of loss of income and other hardship, and $5,000 for the moral damages. An additional $2,500 was also demanded from Gressy, for punitive damages for intentional violation of Zilberg's civil rights.

Since neither the business nor Gressy responded, the case was brought before the Human Rights Tribunal. Neither respondent showed up or filed their defense.

“After five years, I finally obtained justice and it’s worth standing up for my civil rights,” said Zilberg.

In its ruling, Justice Nolet stresses basic rights common to both the Canadian and Quebec Charters. More specifically, Justice Nolet found that in Zilberg's case there was a breach of equal rights to employment, freedom of conscience and religion, and safeguard of one's dignity. Moreover, by awarding punitive damages, Justice Nolet highlights that “it is important to denounce” intentional violations of human rights “so that employers … respect the provisions” of the Quebec Charter.

“I do not accept discrimination of any kind against anyone, because it goes against my personal and Jewish values, ” said Zilberg.

“Speaking out against mistreatment of other people is fundamental to my Jewish faith, and I'm doing what any other Jew should do, ” he added.

“The Human Rights Tribunal's message is clear: an employer's decision to forbid or compel an employee to do something because of the latter's religion violates that employee's civil rights, including the right to equality, dignity and privacy, as well as freedom of conscience and religion,” said CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi.