An Ontario employer has been ordered by a human rights tribunal to pay more than $8,000 to an employee who left after he was called a “Muslim terrorist” and other names by his boss.
Fadi Kannaiti was hired as an office administrator on June 4, 2013, by Patricia Allen for her paralegal company in Toronto, Allen’s Executive Management Services. Initially, the hire was on a trial basis for $10 per hour but, after two months, Allen told Kannaiti she liked his work and wanted him to work on a permanent basis.
Kannaiti said he was interested in continuing to work for the company but needed to be paid more. Allen agreed to find a way to pay him more and enrolled the company in the Employment Service Training Incentive, a wage subsidy program funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Under the program, the company would provide training to Kannaiti and he would be paid $12 per hour. The provincial government would reimburse the company for half that amount once timesheets were submitted.
Sometimes, Kannaiti noticed Allen made rude and obnoxious comments to him and others in the office, but he didn’t think much of it. However, in August 2013, the company began paying him only part of the wages he was owed and forced him to sign timesheets that stated he had been paid in full. Allen told Kannaiti he would be paid his full wages once the government reimbursed the company.
However, Kannaiti continued to receive less than his earned wages and he contacted the government agency in charge of the program. The agency then contacted Allen, who said she would pay Kannaiti. However, by Sept. 3, 2013, Kannaiti still hadn’t received his full pay and the unpaid wages added up to more than $3,000.
So Kannaiti decided he wouldn’t work and he told Allen he was going to take a few days off. On Sept. 10, he returned to the office but Allen yelled at him and insulted him, so Kannaiti left.
Kannaiti exchanged phone calls and text messages with Allen and agreed to come to the office again on Sept. 13. When he arrived, Allen wasn’t there and her business partner said she didn’t want to be part of the dispute. About 30 minutes later, Allen arrived and acted like Kannaiti was late for work, telling him to start working on documents. Kannaiti told her he wanted to be paid first and Allen started yelling at him.
According to Kannaiti, Allen said she had told people “what (he) had done” and she should call them to “chop off (his) head.” She also yelled, “You are only an immigrant, you are not a citizen,” though Kannaiti was born in Canada. Kannaiti testified that he asked Allen again about his pay and she once again yelled at him, saying, “I will not pay. Go cry about it, you Muslim terrorist.”
Kannaiti claimed she called him a terrorist a few more times and said he was from “a terrorist country” before he left. Kannaiti said that, as he left, Allen’s business partner was standing there. He realized she had heard everything but had done nothing. He testified he was “devastated” and felt afraid to reveal his origin, ethnicity or religion going forward. He found it difficult to sleep for a couple of weeks afterwards and it caused emotional pain. He also had to borrow money and fell behind on his rent.
Kannaiti eventually reported the incident to the police, who advised him to file a human rights complaint. Kannaiti also filed a claim with the Ontario Ministry of Labour for unpaid wages, termination pay and vacation pay. In April 2014, an employment standards officer ordered Allen to pay Kannaiti more than $4,000 but, one year later, Kannaiti still had not received anything.
The tribunal found Allen’s aggressive behaviour towards Kannaiti constituted harassment. Though it may have been in retaliation for Kannaiti’s assertion of his right to be paid, the refusal to pay itself wasn’t based on his race, religion or any other protected ground under the Ontario Human Rights Code. However, the way Allen retaliated was discrimination under the code, said the tribunal.
Allen’s statements that he was “only an immigrant” and a “Muslim terrorist” were clearly based on race, ancestry, place of origin, citizenship and ethnic origin and were “so egregious and contemptuous as to amount to discrimination,” said the tribunal
It also found Kannaiti was entitled to monetary compensation in the higher range of damages because Allen’s comments “were particularly repugnant and had a serious impact.”
In addition, Kannaiti was entitled to compensation for loss of earnings from the company’s failure to pay him what he was owed until the end of the training incentive placement agreement, which would have been another two weeks.
Allen was ordered to pay Kannaiti $960.52 in lost wages and $7,500 for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect cause by discrimination, plus interest.
For more information see:
• Kannaiti v. Allen, 2015 HRTO 502 (Ont. Human Rights Trib.).
Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.employmentlawtoday.com for more information.
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