Gender bias in casino's washroom, court rules


Globe and Mail Update

September 15, 2008 at 9:51 PM EDT

For years, the Great Blue Heron Charity Casino in Port Perry, Ont., had a
simple policy when it came to cleaning the casino's bathrooms - male
employees cleaned the men's rooms and female staff the women's.

That might have remained the case were it not for Joanne Seguin, a part-time
washroom attendant who complained that the policy was discriminatory. Her
complaint has turned into a five-year battle and so far she's winning.

Last year, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ordered the casino to give
her back pay plus $10,000 for "loss of dignity." The company appealed, but
an Ontario court has now upheld the tribunal's decision, although it ordered
a review of the monetary award. The company is considering one more appeal.

"They are deliberating," said Richard Charney, a Toronto lawyer who
represented the casino.

Ms. Seguin, who has fought the case with help from her husband, Guy, just
wants the saga to end. During a hearing before the Ontario court, Mr. Seguin
said his wife "wishes this matter to be 'over.'"

It all started in 2002, shortly after the casino opened. Ms. Seguin was
hired on Nov. 6, 2002, as a part-time women's washroom attendant at $10.83
an hour. She was among 900 employees at the time and worked on weekends. The
casino also hired Matthew Welts to work as a part-time attendant in the
men's room.

On Dec. 23, 2002, Mr. Welts was given a full-time job with the housecleaning
staff. The housecleaning crews were responsible for cleaning all parts of
the casino, including the washrooms when there was no attendant on duty. The
casino had four full-time cleaning teams at the time, each staffed by at
least two men and two women.

Ms. Seguin asked Mr. Welts how he got the job since it had not been posted,
according to documents filed with the tribunal. He told her that the casino
needed a man because another man had quit. Ms. Seguin complained to her
boss. When that didn't work, she tried another part-time position but
eventually quit in May, 2003, saying in her letter of resignation that she
was leaving because of a "breach of trust and conduct" by her managers. She
also filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Commission
staff referred the case to the tribunal for a hearing.

During that hearing, casino officials acknowledged they gave Mr. Welts the
job because he was a man. They argued there were sound policy reasons for
having same-gender washroom cleaning and that gender was a bona fide
occupational requirement for the housecleaning job. Cleaning washrooms could
only take place while patrons were in the casino, they argued, and
government regulations required the casino to have separate-gender

Adjudicator Jennifer Scott ruled that while those public-policy issues were
important, they related to only one task of the housecleaning job. Not
hiring Ms. Seguin as a housekeeper just because she was a woman constituted
"direct discrimination on the basis of sex." She added that the casino did
not consider alternatives such as assigning male staff from one of the other
teams to clean the men's room or hiring a male contract employee.

Ms. Scott awarded Ms. Seguin 50 per cent of her lost wages, plus interest,
from Dec. 23, 2002, to May 23, 2003. She also added $10,000 in general
damages for the humiliation suffered. "I am satisfied that the casino's
failure to even consider Seguin for the full-time housekeeping position
affected her self-respect, dignity, self-esteem and confidence," she wrote.

The casino appealed to the Ontario Superior Court. In a ruling dated Sept.
10, a panel of three judges upheld Ms. Scott's decision. "While legislation
mandates the provision of single-sex washrooms in some circumstances, the
legislation leaves wide open the question of how those washrooms should be
staffed," the judges wrote.

The court did refer the monetary award back to the tribunal for
reconsideration, ruling that the casino did not have a chance to present its
case on that issue.

Ms. Seguin was unavailable and an casino official declined comment. But it
now has full-time washroom attendants.