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Montréal, December 5, 2018 - An English-speaking young Black woman, who faced discriminatory treatment at her former job at downtown's Madisons New York Grill & Bar as hostess due to her cornrow hairstyle, has won the first round with her discrimination case.

In a decision sent to the parties last week, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission demanded that Madisons New York Grill & Bar and its owner pay Lettia McNickle $10,000 in moral damages and a total of $4,500 in punitive damages, for having discriminated against McNickle during her employment, in part due to her cornrow braids.

McNickle started working at Madisons New York Grill & Bar in October 2014 as a hostess. In November, she had her hair braided on one side in short cornrows, by her mother, Huelette McNickle, a hairstylist. The braided cornrows reflect, in the women’s opinion, their Black cultural heritage.

Unfortunately, the restaurant’s owner reacted negatively. McNickle was later told to go home because of her hair and to change it. McNickle was later told that her hairstyle was not suitable for the establishment and that it was not allowed. She changed her hairstyle but did not remove the cornrows.

McNickle was also told to wear skirts, while other hostesses had the option of skirts or pants.

Her work conditions deteriorated when other staff members who were supportive of her left the restaurant. Her hours were gradually reduced and then her job was terminated in March 2015.

“I’m very proud of my mom and myself for having stood up against this form of racial discrimination,” McNickle said. “Our hairstyle is such a fundamental part of our racial and cultural history and identity, so to deny us the right to freely wear our hair the way we want is to deny our identity as Black women, especially at work.”

“I hope that this decision will benefit Black women everywhere in Canada, and beyond, because it sends a powerful message to anyone who thinks of denying our Blackness and our womanhood the respect and recognition we deserve,” McNickle added.

“Our message is simple: treat Black women as equals with dignity and respect, and judge us on the basis of the content of our character, our heritage and our ability, not on the basis of our skin color and our appearance,” Lettia’s mother said.

This case 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.

“This decision is a great legal, social and cultural victory for Black women in Canada and sets a new benchmark on racial and gender equality both at work and in society at large,” CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi said.

“We are glad that the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission understood the nature of this form of discrimination based on race and gender, because it is a positive step in the right direction to ensure better access and protection to Black women on the job,” Niemi added.

The Respondents will have until December 21 to comply with the Commission’s decision, failing which the case will be brought to the Human Rights Tribunal.