Guillaume Rey isn’t rude.
He’s just French.
That’s what the server argued in a discrimination complaint against a Vancouver Milestones chain restaurant and its parent company, Cara Operations, in the wake of his firing in August.
While the manager maintains that Rey was popular among customers, he claimed the French server was “combative and aggressive” toward his co-workers.
But Rey alleges the manager’s accusations are a form of “discrimination against my culture,” which “tends to be more direct and expressive,” according to his complaint.
He also said he was fired because of his “direct, honest and professional personality,” which he developed during his time in the French hospitality industry. It’s unclear when Rey came to Canada from France.
While Milestones and its parent company tried to get Rey’s complaint tossed out, tribunal member Devyn Cousineau denied their request earlier this month and paved the way for Rey’s complaint to move forward.
Rey worked as a server at the restaurant from October 2015 to August 2016, and was often the “shift lead,” meaning his duties sometimes involved supervising other servers, according to Cousineau’s decision.
The restaurant’s managers had on several occasions talked to Rey about how he treated his co-workers — and mentioned to him that staff members might think he was acting “aggressive” because of his “culture,” according to Rey’s complaint.
Rey was ultimately fired after a confrontation on Aug. 14.
Rey, who was shift leader that day, asked one of the servers to complete a task for him.
This is where the two sides’ stories diverge.
Instead of doing so, the server complained about Rey to the manager, according to Rey’s complaint.
Rey believed the server’s refusal to complete the task was disrespectful and inconsiderate to the other servers. He went to the manager’s office, knocked on the door, and — when the manager opened the door — found the server inside. The server “aggressively” told Rey he was not going to do anything else for Rey that evening, according to Rey’s complaint.
But according to emails submitted to the tribunal board by the manager, Rey had been “aggressively” checking on whether the server was doing the assigned task. The server came into the manager’s office, near tears, and said he refused to work with Rey any longer.
Then Rey came to the office and started “pushing his way in and talking over her and demanding that the server complete his duties,” Cousineau wrote, citing the manager’s emails.
“Mr. Rey came in and started ‘berating and yelling at me for not checking out with him and that he did not sign me out.’ He continued to ‘speak loudly and rudely’ until the manager asked him to leave,” Cousineau wrote, citing the server’s written account of the incident.
Rey was fired after the incident, in part because he was “aggressive, rude and disrespectful” to the manager and server, according to the complaint. During his firing, Rey told the general manager that he believed he was being terminated because of his French culture.
“If Mr. Rey’s evidence is believed, the general manager made comments that may be capable of proving that his culture was held against him in the assessment of his behavior,” Cousineau wrote in her decision. “On the other hand, I agree with the Restaurant that it is entitled to enact and enforce a workplace policy of respect, and to discipline employees whose behavior falls short.”
While Rey’s complaint will move forward, Rey now has to provide ample evidence of what, exactly, defines the French stereotype he claims was responsible for his termination, Cousineau wrote.
“Mr. Rey will have to explain what it is about his French heritage that would result in behavior that people misinterpret as a violation of workplace standards of acceptable conduct,” Cousineau wrote in her decision this month.
A hearing on the case has not yet been scheduled.
The founder of B.C. Talents, an organization that helps French workers integrate into the British Columbia workforce, told CBS News that cultural difference are common.
“The culture in Canada, it’s a non-conflict culture, particularly in the professional area,” said Julien Mainguy. “Most of the French-speaking people from Europe, they tend to be very direct.”
If French workers want to advance in their careers, he said, they must try to adapt to Canada’s workplace culture.
“They have to understand how they get perceived by the Canadian people and not just do what they used to do in France or in Europe,” he said.