Canadian restaurant industry serving up sexual-harassment training

June 14, 2018
Article Source
The Globe and Mail

From a Globe and Mail news item: Two weeks ago, prominent Calgary chef and restaurant owner Michael Noble pleaded not guilty to the criminal charge of sexually assaulting a 21-year-old employee at a staff party. 

Last week, a coalition of Ottawa restaurants, women's advocates and unions launched Order's Up, a public-service campaign that offers online tools for local food-and-beverage workers to anonymously report their experiences of sexual intimidation, harassment and assault.

And this week, the second seminar in a series called Harassment in the Hospitality Industry: Employee Rights and Effective Employer Risk Management was held in Vancouver.

Until recently, the Canadian restaurant industry had escaped relatively unscathed from the #MeToo movement, which prompted an outpouring of allegations and high-profile scandals (Mario Batali, Ken Friedman, John Besh, et al) in the United States. But now, Canada is in for its own reckoning, says Shea Coulson, the Vancouver lawyer who is organizing the legal rights and panel-discussion seminars with local restaurant director Lisa Haley.

"I suspect that this [the Michael Noble case] is just the beginning of a major trend," says Mr. Coulson, founder and principal of Coulson Litigation, which specializes in hospitality and liquor law.

"The Me Too movement has created a new normative expectation," Mr. Coulson says. "People who feel they have been harassed are going to be more motivated to actually deal with the issue. There are going to be more allegations, more lawsuits, more criminal charges and a lot of negative press. Is that the reckoning the industry wants? Or is time to be proactive and start solving a problem that has become an epidemic?"

In the United States, from 1995 to 2016, there were more sexual-harassment claims filed by restaurant workers than in any other industry, according to data from the U.S. Equality Employment Opportunity Commission. While there are no comparable statistics for Canada, this country is clearly not immune.

In 2015, for example, the case of Toronto pastry chef Kate Burnham, who filed a harassment complaint with the Ontario Human Right Tribunal against Weslodge restaurant and three of its former chefs, ignited nation-wide discussion around the deplorable behaviour that has become systemic in many kitchens. Ms. Burnham reached a confidential settlement at the tribunal later that year.

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