Brown bag lunches aren’t kosher for Jewish hospital

Ambulance workers told to leave café receive $15,000 in settlement with hospital

Two ambulance attendants have reached a settlement with a Montreal hospital after they filed a human rights complaint for being told to leave a kosher cafeteria with lunches brought from home.

Yvon Verreault and Ginette Gelasko delivered a patient to the Jewish General Hospital in February 2005. They decided to take their lunch break afterwards and eat at the hospital’s café. However, the café had a policy of only allowing kosher food bought on the premises to be consumed there. The attendants’ lunches were brought from home and weren’t kosher. Upon discovering this, the café’s manager asked the pair to eat their lunch somewhere else. When they refused, a security guard asked them to leave. Verreault and Gelasko filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

The commission ruled the hospital did not reasonably accommodate the two attendants and they had a right to eat non-kosher food at the café. However, the hospital said that was not the issue.

The hospital’s executive director, Henri Elbaz, told the Canadian Press they were not denied access to the café because their food was non-kosher, but because it was not purchased there.

“It was like bringing your lunch to McDonalds,” Elbaz told CP.

The hospital negotiated with the attendants for two years and finally reached a settlement Apr. 12, 2007. Under the agreement, Verreault and Gelasko will receive $7,500 each.

The hospital, a non-profit operation, noted the settlement was not an admission of fault but rather a practical decision as a trial would have cost much more than the $15,000 paid in the settlement.

Elbaz pointed out there were other areas in the hospital where outside food could be eaten, including staff lounges. As a result of the complaint, the hospital has also built a new section next to the café where outside food can be eaten, he said.

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