Jewish Salon Owner, Stylist Butt Heads Over Shabbat

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A building in Montreal where a spa is located, with the sun rising just above it.
A Montreal spa.Credit: Google Earth

The Jewish owner of a Montreal hair salon discriminated against her Jewish employee by not allowing him to work on Saturdays, the Montreal Gazette reported on Wednesday.

According to the Gazette, the Quebec Human Rights Commission ruled that there was sufficient evidence to back the complaint of hair stylist Richard Zilberg that he suffered religious discrimination at her hands.

The commission recommended that the owner of Spa Orazen, Iris Gressy, and her spa in the neighborhood of Snowden compensate Zilberg C$17,500, including $12,500 for loss of income and $5,000 moral damages, along with $2,500 in punitive damages for intentionally violating his civil rights, the Gazette reported.

Zilberg had reportedly begin working part-time at the spa in late 2011, but in the spring Gressy, his boss, started suggesting he avoid Saturdays because it is the traditional Jewish day of rest. However, Saturdays are the busiest day of the workweek, according to Zilberg.

She then informed him in July 2012 that he would no longer be scheduled on Saturdays, with only non-Jews getting Saturday shifts.

“I come from a long line of Jewish people and I love my faith but it is 2015 and I can choose how I want to practice,” Zilberg said at a news conference called by the Center for Research Action on Race Relations, which had brought the case to the Human Rights Commission on behalf of Zilberg, according to the Gazette.

After Zilberg complained to a Jewish client who called the policy mishegas (crazy in Yiddish) in August 2012, he got into an argument and was summarily fired, the hair stylist said. He found work elsewhere but asserted he was forced to rebuild his clientele base, leading him to complain to the commission through the race relations center.

 “I couldn’t let go of it. Every night I would go to bed and I’d be angry,” he said. “They took from me my choice to practice my faith as I see fit.”

The commission investigated and concluded that Zilberg had provided enough evidence to make a court case. It recommended the spa and Gressy compensate Zilberg, but she missed last month's deadline, so it sent the case to Quebec's Human Rights Tribunal, according to the report. It could still be settled out of court at any time before the tribunal hears the case.

Gressy this week told the Montreal Gazette that she fired Zilberg because he was irresponsible and denied banning him from working on Saturdays.

“I can’t be racist against this man because I’m Jewish myself,” she said, noting that she also works on Saturdays. She added that she refused to compensate Zilberg because she is being falsely accused, and would fight it in court.

Denying that he was irresponsible, Zilberg replied: “It bothers me that she doesn’t acknowledge that I was forbidden because of being Jewish to be in there on Saturdays to work I was fired after a client insulted her because of this policy,” he said.

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