A former employee of a Surrey tent-making company has lodged a human rights complaint against Ideal Canopy and Structure Ltd. (File photo)

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal

Woman says she was ‘marginalized’ at Surrey job for not speaking Punjabi

Surrey tentmaker accused of discrimination based on race, pregnancy

A former employee of a Surrey tent-making company has lodged a human rights complaint against Ideal Canopy and Structure Ltd. alleging discrimination based on race, gender and pregnancy while she worked there.

Yesol Park claims that in 2018 she was denied a promotion because of her gender and race and that she was marginalized in the workplace because she doesn’t speak Punjabi.

Park lodged her complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal against the company, which operates out of Newton. The respondents deny discriminating and applied to have the complaint dismissed, but tribunal member Pamela Murray refused to do so, finding that they “have not provided the information necessary for the tribunal to dismiss Ms. Park’s complaint without a hearing.”

In her Jan. 31 reasons for decision, Murray noted Park claims that when she asked for workplace discussions to be in English a co-worker, Jasi Taggar, “in essence” responded that “it was easier to speak in Punjabi.”

Park also claims the company “took away her job duties” and “forced her to take her maternity leave early after having failed to provide accommodations for her pregnancy,” Murray noted.

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The tribunal heard that Park worked as an inside sales representative at Ideal, which manufactures and rents tents. It’s been in business for about 25 years and when Park worked there had roughly 20 employees.

Beside the company itself, Kamaljit Johal and Jasi Taggar are also listed as respondents. Johal was Park’s supervisor and Taggar, who Park described as a manager, was a co-worker.

Park told the tribunal that Ideal’s owner, who had hired her, suddenly died in January 2018 and her claims relate to things that happened shortly thereafter.

None of the claims have yet been proven or dis-proven in a hearing before the tribunal. Park claims that in February 2018 she asked Johal to promote her to a management position but was denied, Murray noted, “and she says Ms. Johal responded that she ‘needed a man in the office and…you don’t speak Punjabi.’”

The respondents deny Park asked Johal to promote her.

“There is a dispute between the parties about whether employees at ideal often spoke in Punjabi, which Ms. Park does not speak,” Murray noted in her reasons. “According to Ms. Park, most Ideal employees have a South Asian background and speak Punjabi in the workplace, which made her feel isolated and excluded.”

The respondents told the tribunal that Ideal’s employees are from a variety of cultural backgrounds, that it provides instructions in English. “It says it has a few Punjabi employees who do not speak English at all, and that those employees are given instructions in Punjabi. However, they say that usually English is spoken in the workplace.”

As for her pregnancy, Park claims that when she was three months pregnant, but had not yet shared the news with anyone at Idea, Johal poked her in the stomach.

“She says that one day in mid-June 2018, Ms. Johal poked her in the stomach and asked her in a suspicious way ‘What’s this?’” Murray stated. “Ms. Park says that Ms. Johal then commented that Ms. Park should have told Ms. Johal when she was three weeks pregnant, that she could not trust Ms. Park, and that she had trusted Ms. Park with the company. Ms. Park does say that Ms. Johal apologized later that day for the comments she says Ms. Johal made.”

But for their part, the respondents deny Johal poked Park’s stomach.

“They say Ms. Johal did not even know Ms. Park was pregnant until Ms. Park herself told her at the end of June 2018, and I have assumed for this application that they deny Ms. Johal made the comments about not being able to trust Ms. Park,” Murray wrote. “In any event, Ms. Park says that from that point, Ms. Johal started taking her sales calls, Ms. Johal daughter started doing her job, and Ms. Johal started taking away her duties.”

The respondents told the tribunal they did not fire Park and that she was more than welcome to return to work at Ideal once her maternity leave ended. “I note that Ms. Park herself does not say the respondents fired her,” Murray said.

“It will be necessary for a Tribunal member to hear the parties’ evidence at a hearing to decide what actually happened,” Murray determined.

A date for a hearing has not yet been set.



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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