Skip to main content

The complainant, who has OCD and germaphobia, was awarded $12,000 by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal after a Baton Rouge manager refused to serve him.Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press

A Baton Rouge restaurant manager discriminated against a customer with obsessive compulsive disorder and germaphobia by refusing to accommodate his disability and calling him "high maintenance" and "crazy," the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has found.

In a decision this week, the tribunal's vice-chair awarded $12,000 to the complainant, identified only as "P.G.," after a franchise manager refused to serve him in December of 2013. The decision raises questions about a restaurant's responsibilities in accommodating customers with mental illness and other non-visible disabilities.

The case involves an Ontario man who was a regular at the Oakville-area restaurant. For a period of time, he testified, the staff were aware of his disabilities and accommodated his requests. This included being seated at the same booth whenever possible, in an area away from other patrons. Other requests included having the vinyl seats cleaned in front of him before sitting down, and bringing water in a glass without a lemon slice or straw.

But in fall of 2013, the restaurant came under new ownership, and the new manager was less accommodating, he said. Tensions came to a head on Dec. 12, 2013, when he said he was ignored by staff. When the manager finally approached, "he was quite belligerent," asking P.G. to leave and saying none of the staff wanted to serve him because he was "high maintenance."

According to the complainant's testimony, the manager then added: "'Now I know why the police shoot crazy people like you' or words to that effect."

In his decision, tribunal vice-chair Brian Cook wrote that the restaurant "discriminated against the applicant," and that he "suffered injury to his dignity, feelings, and self-respect."

The franchise owner did not file a response to the allegations. A spokesperson for Imvescor Restaurant Group Inc., which owns Baton Rouge, said that the franchisee involved in the case went bankrupt in January of this year, and is no longer operating.

He added that franchise owners are required to operate their restaurant "properly" and in accordance with the law. "We not only want to comply with the law, but we want to do what is the human thing to do to accommodate our clients," Daniel Granger said. "We must treat our customers with respect and we embrace diversity and that includes people with disabilities."

Mr. Granger said Baton Rouge learned of the case only this week, and the tribunal did not contact the company's head office throughout the process.

Businesses in Ontario are required to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which requires "reasonable efforts" to accommodate, "in a manner that respects [their] dignity and independence."

But these rules are often ignored for those with "invisible disabilities," said Suzanne Share, an accessibility consultant in Toronto.

Ms. Share said that the issue can become complicated for restaurant owners in cases where accommodating one customer's needs compromises another's. But even in those cases, she said, restaurants can make alternative arrangements. She added that in all circumstances, that message should be communicated in a respectful manner.