In P.G.v. Groupe Restaurant Imvescor Restaurant Group Inc. o/a Baton Rouge Restaurant (“Groupe), the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (“HRTO”) awarded $12,000 in damages against a franchise restaurant for failing to accommodate the needs of a patron with post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and germaphobia. The restaurant was condemned by the HRTO for the manager’s offensive comments and the fact that the applicant patron had previously been accommodated under the restaurant’s former management. As reported by the National Post, the order is part of a trend towards an increased responsibility to accommodate “invisible disabilities” under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Under previous management, the restaurant made special arrangements for the patron’s specific needs, which included sitting him at a particular table, preparing food in a certain manner, and washing his seat in his presence. When the restaurant changed ownership in September 2013, the staff either resisted or outright refused the accommodations to which the patron had grown accustomed. On December 12, 2013, the patron and manager had a verbal altercation whereupon the patron was ejected from the restaurant and the manager was alleged to have made several inappropriate comments.

The testimony of the applicant was uncontested, as the respondent failed to submit a response or send a representative to the HRTO hearing. The Globe and Mail reported that the owner of the Baton Rouge franchise went bankrupt in January of this year, and that the restaurant is no longer operating. The HRTO found the applicant to be “very credible” and considered his evidence “reliable,” accepting most of his testimony at face value. Ultimately, the HRTO found that the respondent discriminated against the applicant’s disability, injuring the applicant’s “dignity, feelings, and self-respect.” The respondent restaurant was ordered to pay the applicant $12,000.

This decision highlights the need for restaurants and other customer-facing businesses to ensure that front-line employees make a reasonable effort to respectfully accommodate the special needs of customers with mental or psychological disabilities.

Written with the assistance of Markus Liik, articling student.

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