Transgender woman refused leg wax by Windsor, Ont., salon awarded $35K by human rights tribunal

The current location of Mad Wax on Amy Croft Drive. The business was previously based on Walker Road in Windsor. (Dalson Chen/CBC - image credit)

Warning: This story contains a reference to attempted suicide.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) has awarded $35,000 in damages to an Indigenous transgender woman who was refused a leg wax at a salon in Windsor six years ago.

However, the owner of the salon is challenging the ruling, which his lawyer calls "deeply flawed."

The decision comes six years after the woman contacted Mad Wax Windsor Inc. by phone to book an appointment. She alleged there was a string of discriminatory and retaliatory behaviour by the salon and owner Jason Carruthers.

The woman was only identified by the alias A.B. and the decision did not provide further details of her background.

A.B. filed a human rights application at the tribunal after speaking to a staff member and then Carruthers in March 2018.

The adjudicator, Karen Dawson, sided with the woman, determining A.B. was misgendered by Carruthers.

In their phone call, the woman testified, Carruthers told her there was no one on staff who would be comfortable providing services to "someone like you." Carruthers denied using that phrase or misgendering A.B., but said he didn't have a staff member who could provide "male waxing services."

"The applicant's evidence about the telephone call was clear and consistent throughout her testimony," Dawson wrote in the May 23 decision. "By contrast ... the individual respondent's evidence changed on key points when challenged on cross-examination. For these reasons, where their evidence differs, I prefer the evidence of the applicant."

The HRTO ordered Carruthers, the salon and another business to pay $35,000 in damages to A.B., plus interest, and that both Carruthers and salon staff undertake online human rights training.

In welcoming the tribunal's decision, A.B. said no one can silence her or the facts laid out by the tribunal.

"This decision brings me some peace," she said in a media release. "It helps tell the story of the discrimination I faced and the steps taken to escalate that discrimination and harassment against me."

We feel this is an incredibly significant case for trans people and we really do think that this is a move in the right direction. - Megan Evans Maxwell, HRLSC lawyer

In an email to CBC, Carruthers called the ruling "unjust" and said he's "shocked by the awarded amount as a small business owner."

"However, this is a legal matter which I will let my lawyer comment on as he is better able to provide information."

The human rights decision states Carruthers acknowledged he may have asked the applicant about her genitalia and assumed she was seeking a Brazilian wax, even though, under cross-examination, Carruthers said A.B. did not indicate she wanted a Brazilian.

The adjudicator rejected testimony that A.B. threatened Carruthers with "trouble with the tribunal" or a "media circus."

Following A.B.'s human rights complaint, Carruthers issued a release and was quoted in the media as referring to a "male Brazilian wax" regarding the service A.B. sought. The adjudicator found the outreach to the media constituted reprisal for the human rights complaint.

A.B. testified the respondent's remarks to media outlets "opened up a non-consensual public conversation as to the status of her physical transition," which was very traumatizing, the decision states.

A.B. also testified she attempted suicide at one point, relapsed into substance use, and ultimately lost her job and her marriage.

Salon owner challenging $35K fine

Raymond Colautti, Carruthers's lawyer, said the ruling is "deeply flawed and must be set aside."

Colautti has filed an application for judicial review, which is akin to an appeal of the human rights ruling.

The application says there was no evidence presented to support testimony about harm suffered by A.B. and the damages awarded "significantly" exceed "the damages awarded in more serious cases."

The application states it was A.B. who raised the issue of genitalia on the phone call and any further comments on her genitalia from Carruthers were "influenced" by that.

Further, the application states, Carruthers went to the media only after A.B. allegedly threatened a "media circus" and then posted a video about Mad Wax to the Facebook page of a transgender organization.

Lawyer believes ruling will be upheld if reviewed

A.B. was represented by the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC) — an independent organization that provides free legal advice and support services to people who have experienced discrimination or harassment under Ontario's Human Rights Code.

Megan Evans Maxwell, A.B.'s legal counsel from the HRLSC, said she had not yet received the application for judicial review but that the tribunal's ruling was reasonable and she believes it will be upheld.

Evans Maxwell said her client is hopeful the decision will lead to societal change. She said the case is about fairness for trans people, noting A.B. was seeking what would be a routine service for a cisgender person to receive.

"We feel this is an incredibly significant case for trans people and we really do think that this is a move in the right direction," she said.

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