In the recent Nelson v. Goodberry Restaurant Group Ltd. dba Buono Osteria and others, 2021 BCHRT 137 case, the BC Human Rights Tribunal (“Tribunal”) considered a complaint by an employee who asked to be addressed by “they/them” pronouns.
The employee, Jessie Nelson, was a non-binary person who used they/them pronouns. Jessie worked at a restaurant on the Sunshine Coast in BC for 4 weeks. Jessie Nelson was the first non-binary person to work at the restaurant.
Jessie Nelson complained to the owner that the manager used gendered pronouns (she/her) and gendered nicknames (e.g. sweetheart, honey) when speaking to them. Jessie Nelson asked the manager to use their name or proper pronouns, but the manager did not change the behaviour. The owner did not take action. A few days later, Jessie Nelson confronted the manager about using the correct pronouns. After this heated interaction, the employer terminated Jessie Nelson on a without cause basis.
Jessie Nelson filed a complaint with the Tribunal alleging discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
In its analysis in the decision, the Tribunal said:
-  Like a name, pronouns are a fundamental part of a person’s identity. They are a primary way that people identify each other. Using correct pronouns communicates that we see and respect a person for who they are. Especially for trans, non-binary, or other non-cisgender people, using the correct pronouns validates and affirms they are a person equally deserving of respect and dignity. As [the worker] explained in this hearing, their pronouns are “fundamental to me feeling like I exist”. When people use the right pronouns, they can feel safe and enjoy the moment. When people do not use the right pronouns, that safety is undermined and they are forced to repeat to the world: I exist.
The Tribunal concluded that the manager’s actions and the employer’s response amounted to discrimination against Jessie Nelson based on gender identity and expression. In summary, Jessie Nelson’s gender identity was a factor in the employer’s decision to terminate the employment relationship.
The Tribunal awarded $30,000 to Jessie Nelson as compensation for injury to dignity.
Employers are obliged to address employee complaints of discrimination or harassment, or they can face liability for discrimination. This includes employee complaints about being “misgendered” in the workplace.
The full text of the decision can be found here.