January 21, 2013
BY: NICOLA MACLEOD
Managers of restaurants and bars need to take the harassment and assault of waitresses more seriously, says the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Center.
The comment comes after a man was charged with assaulting a waitress in a Fredericton restaurant.
For many waitresses and servers, being called sweetheart or being tapped on the bum is all in a night’s work. Some might even say it is a part of the job.
“Being groped or having sexist comments upsetting to them [waitresses] and directed to them should not be part of the job,” says Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Center Director Lorraine Whalley.
While the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Center has not dealt with a case of waitress assault in years, it is a reality in the everyday life of many waitresses and servers.
The recent assault charge in Fredericton does not surprise former server Leah White, rather, she says it makes her sad.
“I expected some harassment when I started working, but the level was extreme,” says White, who is tall, has shoulder length curly blonde hair and is training for her first bodybuilding and figure modeling competition.
White worked at The Velvet Nightclub, now Jack Cameron’s in Charlottetown, PEI. It is wood sided, log cabin- like building in the middle of the city with a black steel door and a flashing purple sign.
For over a year and a half, White was pulled into customer’s laps, grabbed, propositioned for kisses in exchange for tips and had sexual comments directed at her while working every night.
White recalls that it was never-ending. Some of the harassment was direct, while other forms were subtler, like customers ordering types of beer kept on the bottom selves so she would have to bend over in her uniformed skirt.
Occasionally, if an incident was not brushed off quickly, the bouncer would remove the client from the establishment. White never witnessed action being taken by supervisors or managers in these cases.
“While my position was that of a server, I certainly felt more like a servant catering to the needs, whims, demands, and perversions of the customers. I don’t think this is how servers should be treated, especially concerning harassment. While most is merely good-natured fun, it opens the doors for much worse incidents and on occasion it feels very demeaning and even unsafe,” says White.
The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized sexual harassment as a prohibited form of discrimination since 1989. It defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that detrimentally affects the work environment or leads to adverse job-related consequences for the victims of harassment.”
In Janzen vs. Platy Enterprises Ltd., Dianna Janzen was complaining that she was being harassed by a cook in the restaurant where she was a waitress, eventually forcing her to quit her job.
The court unanimously ruled that Platy Enterprises, owner of Pharos restaurant in Winnipeg, Man, was liable for the discrimination. Managers are responsible for ensuring employees feel safe and comfortable in the workplace.
“By requiring an employee, male or female, to contend with unwelcome sexual actions or explicit sexual demands, sexual harassment in the workplace attacks the dignity and self-respect of the victim both as an employee and as a human being,” reads the Supreme Court’s decision.
“’Working for our tips’ should not mean anything more than doing our required job in a efficient and friendly way,” says White.