A Canadian court has ruled that deliberately misgendering someone in the workplace is a human rights violation.
The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal made the ruling on 29 September after Jessie Nelson complained that their former employer discriminated against them.
Nelson, who is non-binary and genderfluid, said the restaurant where they worked, Buono Osteria, deliberately used the wrong pronouns to address them.
Gendered nicknames such as “sweetheart,” “sweetie,” and “honey” were allegedly used to refer to Nelson.
Devyn Cousineau, a representative of the Tribunal, wrote that pronouns are “a fundamental part of a person’s identity” in her 42-page ruling.
She added that using them correctly shows “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,” Cousineau explained. “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.”
Buono Osteria was ordered to roll out an official policy on pronouns, as well as training on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Nelson will also receive $30,000 in damages from the restaurant and those who misgendered them.
Their lawyer, Adrienne Smith, said that the ruling shows “the correct pronouns for transgender people are not optional.”
Speaking to CityNews, Smith said: “They’re the minimum of courtesy and respect. It’s not an option to respect the pronouns that trans people choose for themselves.
“It’s a legal requirement to use the pronouns that a trans person uses for themselves and asks to have used in the workplace.”
During the court proceedings, Nelson said they knew pronoun mistakes would happen and that the importance of using the correct ones had been communicated to their colleagues.
They said that the deliberate use of “feminine” nicknames from their supervisor was “offensive, degrading, and minimising.”
At a staff meeting in June 2019, Nelson proposed the use of gender-neutral language when speaking to guests at the venue.
This was reportedly rejected by their superior, who said he “was not about to change how he spoke to guests unless he was directly ordered to by his manager.”
Nelson was eventually fired from the company, which led to the employment tribunal hearings.
“I’ve lived my entire life attempting to self‐express and figure out who I am and find a place in this world,” they said. “And I’ve worked very, very hard and gone through a lot to get here. And it’s a challenging battle to have on a daily basis, even when people don’t mean it, let alone when somebody is doing it purposely.”