UPDATE May 22, 2015: We lost our appeal at the Superior Court.
The story was covered here by the Toronto SUN.
The allegations were false and we were treated unjustly by the HRTO. Unfortunately, and to our surprise, there was no appeal process available. Our only recourse was to take this case to the Divisional Court not for retrial, but for review. In other words they had to figure out whether or not the HRTO had made a legal mistake in their decision. We suppose they did what they could. Had we the option to retry the case, we would have won.
This case has ruined our reputation and our health. Our standards and integrity are what have kept us in business for 40 years in this city, and to have the public believe that we discriminated against our staff was a huge personal blow that we haven’t been able to recover from. Patrons that dined with us for years stopped coming overnight, we received menacing calls and emails and we continue to read hateful comments about our family and business online. This has been devastating and extremely frustrating.
We’ve come to learn that the HRTO has a very high conviction rate and no appeal process. We made the mistake of wearing the truth like our shield and didn’t represent ourselves properly. The public, especially small business owners like us, need to know that there are misguided individuals that are profiting from the free legal counsel and systems that were put into place to protect those who actually need it. This is really happening. As soon as our story made it into the press in December 2013, we received dozens of calls and emails from business owners that were wrongfully convicted on discrimination charges at the HRTO and lost their businesses. People were furious, and their stories were horrible. It’s extremely disheartening to be added to that list.
This has been the most difficult thing we’ve ever faced as a business, and above all as a family. I suppose our greatest mistake was that we were naive enough to think that justice would prevail and it did not.
Thank you for your support and please leave us your comments below.
ORIGINAL POST Aug 30, 2014
You might have caught wind of a discrimination lawsuit filed by some of our ex employees in December. This has been the most disappointing, challenging thing we have ever faced in 40 years of business in Toronto.
Hi, my name is Paul Bigue. My wife Danielle and our son Stephane are the owners of Le Papillon on the Park, at 1001 Eastern Avenue in Leslieville / The Beach.
Our latest restaurant, which opened in 2009, is a testament to our passion for what we do and our love of the Leslieville and Beach communities – our favourite neighbourhoods in Toronto. We are proud business owners in this area also live in this community and had looked forward to a long future here. Unfortunately our dream has been hindered for the time being thanks to the actions of a small number of isolated individuals who have damaged our reputation and our business.
On a Friday night in January 2011, our chef Abdul Malik (a 17 year employee), his nephew and sous-chef Arif Hossain (a 12 year employee), as well as a friend of theirs, Nahid Ashfaq Islam, marched out in rage and did not return because we required them to train a new female cook. Fortunately, we were able to retain a few chefs from a friend of ours and re-opened the next day until we found permanent replacements.
In response, Mr. Malik went to the Ontario Labour Relations Board and filed a complaint of discrimination. The Board thoroughly investigated, found his accusations to be unjustified, and denied his claim.
Not content to accept the judgment of the Labour Relations Board, the three individuals filed false claims of discrimination against my wife Danielle at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), and asked for $100,000 in compensation. They received free advice from the Tribunal as well as free legal counsel. In other words, they had absolutely nothing to lose.
Six months after our hearing and thirty one months after we were cleared by the Labour Board, Tribunal adjudicator Judith Keene found us guilty. Because the HRTO is not a court of law, there was no appeal process available to us. It is also famous for its 96% conviction rate. Devastated, we have taken our case to the Ontario Superior Court in order to reverse the HRTO decision.
Meanwhile, last December the Toronto Star wrote a one-sided story which perpetuated the falsehoods, harming our reputation and in turn impacting our business.
It remains on the front page of Google search results six months later. Our sales this year have dropped by 20%, which, coupled with our lawyers fees (past and present) resulted in us not being able to discuss the case until it has gone to the Ontario Superior Court. We were advised that risking a PR blow-up on such a touchy subject could bankrupt us, so we kept our public reply short and formal even though it frustrated us enormously to do so.
We have operated restaurants in Toronto for more than 40 years with the utmost integrity. We have great respect for the men and women we have had the privilege of working with, and consider them members of our family. We will defend our reputation and refuse to allow a few misguided individuals to destroy our good name and a business that employs 25 (wonderful) people.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Please share this article with anyone that might be interested
I thank you, along with my wife Danielle and our son Stephane, for taking the time to read this letter and thank the loyal friends and neighbours who have continued to lend their support and patronage. If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me. We welcome anyone to meet our staff, take a tour of the kitchen, and see for themselves what the kitchen working environment is like.