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Why You Need To Use the Correct Pronouns for Your Employees

June 20, 2022

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: 

  • [82] 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.

Takeaway  

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.

Still have questions about pronouns in the workplace? Contact Scott Marcinkow at [email protected] or anyone else from our team listed on the Authors page.

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Important Notice: The information contained in this Article is intended for general information purposes only and does not create a lawyer-client relationship. It is not intended as legal advice from Harper Grey LLP or the individual author(s), nor intended as a substitute for legal advice on any specific subject matter. Detailed legal counsel should be sought prior to undertaking any legal matter. The information contained in this Article is current to the last update and may change. Last Update: June 20, 2022.

©Harper Grey LLP 2022

 

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