A 13-year-old Black girl who was wrongly singled out on suspicion of theft by her manager at a Vancouver juice bar has been awarded more than $27,000 in damages for discrimination.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has found that because of her race and sex, the young worker was subjected to a “poisoned” work environment at Heirloom, a restaurant and juice bar in the upscale South Granville neighbourhood.
The teen’s identity has been protected by the tribunal, and she is referred to as AB in a decision handed down on Friday. It says bias drove manager Nicholas Stone’s decision to confront the teen — and none of her co-workers — about shortages in the cash register.
The encounter left her in tears.
“AB was singled out as a potential thief, despite there being no evidence to that effect,” tribunal member Amber Prince wrote.
“In the absence of an explanation, Mr. Stone’s heightened suspicion, scrutiny, and monitoring of AB is consistent with persistent and harmful stereotypes that Black people are prone to theft and that Black children are more adult and less innocent than other children.”
After the original confrontation, and despite the restaurant owner’s evidence that cash shortages are common and usually the result of innocent mistakes, AB was relegated to working in the back of the store, the decision says. When she quit her job, Stone declined to write her a reference letter.
Prince said it was likely discrimination was also behind those decisions.
“In arriving at these findings, I am not concluding that Mr. Stone intended to discriminate against AB,” the decision says.
“None of us are immune from operating on unconscious stereotypes, given that such stereotypes continue to seep into our collective psyche.”
Prince ordered Heirloom and Stone to pay AB $25,000 for damages to her dignity, feelings and self-respect, along with $2,496 for lost wages and $366 for expenses. CBC News has reached out to Heirloom for comment.
Cash shortfalls ‘not a big deal,’ owner says
According to the decision, AB had been working at Heirloom’s juice bar for about six months when Stone called her to the back of the store and told her there had been some cash shortages during her shifts, the decision says.
AB told the tribunal that Stone called her “untrustworthy” and said, “We can’t have thieves working for the company.” She said he didn’t answer her requests for more information about the shortages, raised his voice above hers and then walked away when she started to cry.
Though Stone disputed her recollection of his comments, he acknowledged that he spoke to AB about the shortages, claiming it was his usual practice to speak with workers about this kind of thing, the decision says.
However, he admitted that he did not mention the shortages to any of the other employees who worked during AB’s shifts.
AB’s mother also worked at Heirloom, and she arranged a meeting with Stone and Heirloom’s owner William Greer, who told the family that the store’s cash “seldom adds up” for “lots of reasons.”
Greer testified that he believed there had been a misunderstanding, because cash register shortages usually happened because of mistakes by inexperienced workers and were “not a big deal.”
“The last thing we think is theft; usually there’s a plausible explanation,” Greer told the tribunal.
After the meeting, AB testified that she expected Stone to apologize, but instead he kept her from working at the cash register and moved her to the back of the store.
Stone claimed AB made the decision to change duties on her own, but Prince wrote that it was more likely Stone was still suspicious of the teen and didn’t want her using the cash register.
AB quit her job a few days later, writing in a resignation letter that while she appreciated the opportunity to work at Heirloom, “I don’t feel safe, welcomed or comfortable because it’s impossible for me to work in an environment where my manager doesn’t trust me.”
Stone refused to write a reference letter for the teen, explaining that it was because she had shown up for work on a few occasions without wearing a Heirloom t-shirt and had been “just rude” in recent weeks.
“No one at Heirloom showed any care or concern when 13-year-old AB made clear that she was resigning because she felt unsafe, unwelcomed, uncomfortable, and distrusted in the workplace,” the decision says.