Adnan Cenanovic

Ontario man challenges ‘anti-male’ restaurant industry in rights tribunal and wins (sort of)

The Canadian restaurant industry is rife with discrimination, a warren of hostile forces aligned against … men?

At least that’s the view of Jean-Alexandre De Bousquet. A Toronto human rights lawyer, Mr. De Bousquet believes men, especially older men, face “systemic discrimination” in the Canadian food industry.

“Just go to any restaurant or bar downtown”—Mr. De Bousquet specifically cited The Keg and Wild Wings —“and you’re likely to encounter an all female staff,” he said, “except for the males that work in the kitchen.”

But Mr. De Bousquet does not intend to let this state of affairs stand. He recently challenged the allegedly anti-male culture of Canadian restaurants in a case before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. And he won, sort of.

In 2013, Mr. De Bousquet’s client, Adnan Cenanovic, responded to an online ad for “female only” servers at a Bourbon St. Grill in a Richmond Hill food court. He didn’t get the job and, two days after applying, he hired Mr. De Bousquet to represent him in a sexual discrimination complaint.

The ruling in that case, released just before Christmas, reads like a polite, legalese wish for a pox on all sides of the dispute. The restaurant’s owner, Weiwei “Tony” Zhu, at first admitted to trying to hire only women for the open job, then later tried to recant, a switcheroo the adjudicator, Jennifer Scott, didn’t buy.

The respondents violated the applicant’s rights when they posted a job ad that stated he should not apply because he is a man

Mr. Cenanovic, meanwhile, didn’t act like someone who sincerely wanted a $10-an-hour food court job, Ms. Scott found. For one thing, he’d never worked in fast food before, despite having more than a decade of experience in restaurants and bars.

Mr. De Bousquet, though, denied that allegation. Not only did his client desperately want the job when he applied for it, he said, he still would have taken a job, any job after filing the case.

“In April, we contacted the defendant and we said that my client would accept a job as a settlement, and if the respondent didn’t want to hire him, he could arrange to give him a job through one of his connections,” he said.

Mr. De Bousquet said Mr. Zhu’s lawyer turned that offer down. (Wen Wu, the lawyer, declined to comment.)

In the end, Ms. Scott found that Mr. Cenanovic could not prove he’d lost out on the job because of his gender. But, because the job ad itself was discriminatory, he was nonetheless a victim. “The respondents violated the applicant’s rights when they posted a job ad that stated he should not apply because he is a man,” Ms. Scott wrote.

Mr. De Bousquet now wants Mr. Zhu to pay his client $25,000 in restitution. He said that just because Mr. Cenanovic didn’t suffer any actual monetary damage, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a real victim. He compared his client to a black person denied service because of his or her race.

“A person who walks into a hair salon and is told ‘Sorry, we won’t serve you because you’re black, that person can walk to the next hair salon and get a hair cut for the same price,” he said. “There’s no money lost there, but there’s still an inherent harm to being treated differently because of characteristics we have no control of.”

Both sides in the dispute have until Jan. 9 to submit recommendations for redress in the case. In addition to the cash, Mr. De Bousquet is hoping the tribunal will order Mr. Zhu to post a copy of the Ontario Human Rights Code in his restaurant.

‘Innate harm’ to tell men they’re not wanted, adjudicator rules, though she ‘doubts sincerity’ of male who was put out by ‘female only’ job ad

A restaurateur violated a male applicant’s human rights when he posted a job ad seeking “female only” servers, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled despite hearing evidence the man might not have wanted the job in the first place.

Adjudicator Jennifer Scott found Adnan Cenanovic failed to prove he lost out on the job because of his gender, and she also laid out “several reasons to doubt the sincerity” of the job application. But she nevertheless found he was a victim of discrimination, just because of the ad itself.

“I accept it constitutes adverse treatment to be told that you cannot apply for a job because of your gender,” she wrote. “There is an innate harm in communicating to people that they are less worthy, less qualified and less desirable for employment because of prohibited grounds for discrimination.”

Weiwei “Tony” Zhu, the owner of Bourbon St. Grill in a Richmond Hill, Ont., mall, had posted a Nov. 16, 2013, ad on Kijiji seeking “female only” full and part-time servers to replace a female waitress. The ad asked for a resume and a picture and said qualified candidates would be called for an interview.

A day later, Mr. Cenanovic, a Bosnian immigrant with more than 10 years experience as a server and bartender — though never in fast food — replied to the ad on Kijiji. “[H]ello this is my resume,” he wrote, “as you can see my work history thank you and have a great day Ado.”

Two days later, Mr. Cenanovic hired Jean-Alexandre De Bousquet, a Toronto human rights lawyer. That same day, Mr. Cenanovic phoned the Bourbon St. Grill and asked for the manager. He told Mr. Zhu, in a recorded phone call, he was interested in the job. Mr. Zhu, who emigrated from China in 2006, said “female only” twice and hung up.

Two months later, Mr. Zhu received an email from the human rights tribunal saying an application had been filed against him. Mr. Cenanovic, the application said, was asking for $15,000 in compensation. He later upped that demand to $25,000.

At a hearing this year, Mr. Zhu testified that Mr. De Bousquet came to the Bourbon St. Grill in January, 2014. He left his card and told an employee that Mr. Zhu had to contact him and if he didn’t “he would be in a lot of trouble and would have to pay lots of money.” He followed up that visit with several phone calls to Mr. Zhu’s personal number, so many that Mr. Zhu eventually threatened to phone the police if they continued.

At the hearing, Mr. Zhu testified that he thought Mr. De Bousquet was trying to blackmail him. His lawyer argued that Mr. Cenanovic never actually wanted the job and that he and Mr. De Bousquet were instead participating in a “scheme to get money” from Mr. Zhu. Mr. Zhu’s lawyer even tried to have Mr. De Bousquet removed from the case, a request Ms. Scott rejected.

She also dismissed Mr. Zhu’s claim that he never intended to advertise for only female servers and that he had just copied and pasted the ad from another one he found on Kijiji without understanding exactly what it said. She did this in part because, while testifying, Mr. Zhu stated repeatedly that he was, in fact, trying to hire a female server.

(Indeed, in his official response to the complaint, Mr. Zhu literally said: “I posed [sic] a job opening in Kijiji seeking a female server. I honestly wished to hire a female server.”)

In the end, though, Mr. Zhu testified that he interviewed five people for the job, three women and two men, and hired none of them. Instead he gave more hours to a man he had already hired.

Among the other reservations stated in her Dec. 19 decision, Ms. Scott noted Mr. Cenanovic took steps to hire a lawyer with 48 hours of responding to the ad. She also expressed concerns over Mr. De Bousquet’s communications with Mr. Zhu, saying the talk of owing “a lot of money” raised questions about “the purpose of filing the application.”

Neither Mr. Zhu nor Mr. Cenanovic could be reached for comment Tuesday. Messages left at the offices of Mr. De Bousquet and Christopher Goldson, Mr. Zhu’s lawyer, were not returned.

Both sides were given 30 days to suggest potential remedies for the violation.