Lettia McNickle, 19, has worked as a hostess at Madisons New York Grill & Bar in downtown Montreal since October.
However, after coming in with braids on one side of her head a few weeks ago, she hasn’t received any shifts at all, she said.
McNickle said her manager told her in front of all her co-workers that her hairstyle was unacceptable.
"I obviously wanted to know what it was she didn’t like specifically about the hairstyle, so the [next] day I asked her, 'What is it that’s wrong with my hair?’ And she said, 'We don’t want that kind of look here at the restaurant,' " McNickle told CBC Daybreak host Mike Finnerty on Thursday.
"I thought, ‘Well, that’s insulting. That’s rude and disrespectful,’ " she continued.
McNickle said her boss sent her home — she lives in the Montreal borough of LaSalle — after embarrassing her in front of her co-workers.
Frequent occurrence in black community
She called her mother, Huelette McNickle, in tears and explained what had happened.
"I said, 'Are you kidding me?' " her mother recalled.
"In my view, I honestly, strongly feel that it was against her race. I mean, it’s her hair. It’s not like she had extensions. It was all hers," Huelette McNickle said. "It’s who she is."
Gilles Pépin, brand vice-president for the Canadian franchises of the Madisons chain, said McNickle has not been fired and the reason she hasn’t been given any shifts because business is down.
McNickle says she doesn't believe Pépin. Managers at the resto-bar have been giving her the runaround on scheduling matters, she said.
Now McNickle and her mother are working with the Centre For Research-Action on Race Relations to file a complaint.
Huelette McNickle said that as a hairdresser, she hears about cases of discrimination from many of her clients.
"I wanted to shine light on it that Lettia is not an isolated case. We face this in the black community quite often," Huelette McNickle said.