Servers fired from sports bar at Montreal's Bell Centre allege racial discrimination
Three servers from 1909 Taverne Moderne, a sprawling new sports bar next to the Bell Centre, have filed complaints with Quebec's human rights commission alleging they were fired last week because of racial discrimination.
All three told CBC they were given no clear explanation as to why they were fired.
All said the manager who fired them told them their work ethic and appearance didn't compare favourably to two model employees, both white francophone Quebecers.
One of the servers who was fired, Fahmidia Khatun, said the only reason she can think of is that she isn't white.
"Maybe they think white French Quebecers are the people who represent 1909 for them. It's not acceptable. It's not supposed to be this way," Khatun said.
Khatun and her former colleague,Terry Ngala, were both fired after their shifts on Jan. 13. A third employee who spoke to CBC but asked not to be named was fired two days later.
All three had worked at the bar since it opened last fall.
All three said they'd never received any complaints, either verbal or written, about their work until the day they were let go. And all three said the same manager gave them the same vague explanation about why they were being terminated.
"I couldn't get anything concrete but generic terms. He said he felt it was the best decision for the advancement for the restaurant," Ngala said.
"He told me, 'You don't live up to the standards of 1909,'" Khatun said.
"It just didn't make sense to me, and I was given no details or any explanation as to why I was being fired," the third employee said.
Compared to other employees
All three pressed the manager for details, and in all three cases he raised the example of two other model employees.
"He gives me the name of two white French Quebecers, and he tells me, 'If everyone were like them I'd be happy. They give good client service; they come to work prepared and on time, and they have a good appearance,'" Khatun said.
"The moment he gave me that phrase — the comparison with the two white colleagues, mentioning their attention to detail and their appearance — it's the word 'appearance' that really came to mind," Ngala said.
Ngala said all servers wore the same uniform and received training on how to wear it properly. Khatun said she took her appearance seriously.
"My hair was always properly done. I would have makeup on. I even bought a steamer, so my clothes would be straight and well-ironed, so I didn't know what was wrong with the way I looked," Khatun said.
All three told CBC they could come to no other conclusion than that they were fired because of their race. They have all submitted written complaints to Quebec's Human Rights Commission.
The 1909 Taverne Moderne is a joint venture between The Montreal Canadiens and restaurant company Cara Operations.
Otman Amer, the sports bar's director of operations, sent CBC a written statement, which reads as follows:
"1909 Taverne Moderme will mandate an independent third party to conduct an investigation into the dismissal of an employee and allegations of racism. The investigation will aim to verify that our values of respect and equality contained in our code of conduct have been met, as our restaurant relies heavily on diversity in the hiring of its staff."
"We take this situation very seriously and we are taking the appropriate steps to ensure the principles in our code are being adhered to."
Khatun said she had never experienced discrimination before.
"It made me a little sad, and a little afraid that it might happen to me somewhere else," she said.
The third employee fired said she would never return to work at the bar, even if the investigation finds she was fired for no good reason.
"It's embarrassing. I don't want to go back. It makes me feel unwanted."