A Toronto comic and a Vancouver restaurant owner have been ordered to pay a lesbian patron $22,500 in compensation over a tirade of insults, after the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal dismissed the comic’s claim that his words were an appropriate response to a heckler.
Lorna Pardy filed a complaint in 2008 alleging she and her lesbian partner were the targets of the offensive comments made by Guy Earle, who was hosting the open mike night at Zesty’s Restaurant on Commercial Drive in May 2007.
Earle did not deny he was offensive, but claimed Pardy and her same-sex partner first rudely heckled him along with the amateur comics on stage that night. Earle claimed that Pardy threw two drinks in his face, and admitted he broke Pardy’s sunglasses in a confrontation after the show.
Earle’s lawyer later walked out of the Human Rights Tribunal hearing after claiming it was an illegal restriction on his client’s freedom of speech.
But on Thursday, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal sided with Pardy and ruled Earle must pay her $15,000. The owner of the restaurant, Sam Ismail, was ordered to pay Pardy $7,500 for failing to prevent the incident.
Discrimination not justified: tribunal
In his decision, tribunal member Murray Geiger-Adams ruled Pardy suffered adverse treatment from Earle and the owner of Zesty’s restaurant.
“Mr. Earle made two sets of comments from the stage at Zesty’s, to and about Ms. Pardy and her friends … including referring to them as ‘f–king c–ts,’ ‘stupid c–ts,’ ‘stupid dykes’ and ‘f–king dyke c–ts,'” he wrote in the decision.
“Mr. Earle cornered Ms. Pardy and continued to physically intimidate and verbally abuse her by the bar as she returned from the washroom, including referring to her as ‘f–king stupid dyke,’ ‘stupid f–king bitch,’ and he grabbed and broke her sunglasses,” he wrote.
Geiger-Adams also ruled the restaurant staff failed to restrain Earle or protect Pardy from his verbal or physical assault, or otherwise take effective steps to protect her.
“Ms. Pardy did not provoke or invite Mr. Earle’s first attack from the stage, and she was far from an equal participant thereafter. She did not match Mr. Earle’s hostile and demeaning insults, engage in physical intimidation of him, or destroy his property,” he wrote.
“She did throw two glasses of water in his face, but that is a matter best considered as affecting the extent of any remedies to which she may be entitled, rather than as a justification for discriminatory conduct,” he wrote.
Freedom of expression no defence
The tribunal also ruled that freedom of expression or the need to control hecklers was not a reasonable justification for discriminating against Pardy based on her sex and sexual orientation.
“None of the respondents tendered any evidence that attacking a patron’s sex or sexual orientation from the stage had any rational connection to maintaining order during the show,” wrote Geiger-Adams
“Further, Mr. Earle’s comments off the stage, his physical intimidation of Ms. Pardy near the bar, and his breaking her sunglasses had no possible rational connection to quieting a disruption of the show,” he wrote.
“Perhaps even more importantly, he employed, and repeated, publicly, the most extreme terms that came to mind to directly attack her identity and dignity as a woman and a lesbian. His attack showed every sign of being calculated to inflict as much damage as possible, in as short a time as possible, on her greatest vulnerabilities.”
YouTube video faulted
Geiger-Adams also faulted Earle for comments he made in a YouTube video rant about the incident.
“In his YouTube interview, after the complaint was filed, Mr. Earle publicly made false and inflammatory statements about Ms. Pardy’s conduct at Zesty’s which seriously exacerbated and prolonged the effect on her of his earlier actions,” he wrote.
“The psychological impact on Ms. Pardy of Mr. Earle’s conduct was immediate, severe, lasting, and well supported by credible evidence from Ms. Pardy … and by detailed, uncontradicted medical evidence,” he wrote.