Former employee sues Mahony & Sons for wrongful termination, alleges racial discrimination at UBC location

A former employee of the UBC location of Mahony & Sons is suing the company for damages due to wrongful termination, also alleging racial discrimination by management.

Isaiah Smith, a UBC graduate who worked at Mahony & Sons from 2012 to 2018, alleged that Mahony & Sons “unilaterally changed the terms of [their] employment agreement” by changing his schedule so he could not commute to work, in a notice of claim filed to the Civil Resolution Tribunal on October 31, 2018. Smith’s small claims court dates were initially set for September 8–12, 2020, but have been postponed.

Smith’s case has also been approved to be heard by the BC Human Rights Tribunal. The tribunal dates were originally set for mid-January 2021, but Smith said he will also be pushing those dates back due to the dates interfering with his classes.

The UBC location of Mahony & Sons closed in summer 2019.

“It's been two years, dealing with their attorneys and dealing with them ... The good thing though is that I was able to garner a lot of support,” Smith said. “I reached out to others who worked there, other UBC students, and people came and submitted letters and told me about their experiences and that just pushed me further into realizing that this is bigger than me.”

In his notice of claim, Smith wrote that he began to work at Mahony & Sons, which has since rebranded to mahony, as a dishwasher in March 2012 and became head chef around December 2017. He commuted from Abbotsford at the time.

In the claim, he alleged that in his employment contract, it was expressly noted that his schedule would be Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. In April 2018, he wrote that he was informed by the executive chef of Mahony & Sons that he would now be required to work “at least three mid shifts per week” from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“As there was no possible way for me to commute home I was effectively forced to resign,” Smith alleged in the notice of claim. “The Mahonys [who run Mahony & Sons] were very well aware of the limitations of my commute in that the last train to Mission leaves at 6 p.m.”

The affidavit from Smith also alleged months of “discriminatory jokes about [his] accent and culture.” Smith is African American, and he immigrated to Canada in late December 2011. The affidavit also alleged dozens of instances of Smith asking to be paid what he said he was supposed to be paid.

In the affidavit, over 20 former employees wrote letters vouching for Smith’s character. Many also alleged that “racist jokes,” a “lack of professionalism” and “paychecks being weeks late” all took place when they worked at the restaurant.

Smith also alleged in the affidavit that he was not paid for his overtime work for years, and alleged a “toxic dysfunctional culture,” “constant discrimination” and a “wage disparity between Caucasians and minorities.” These allegations were also echoed by other former employees in the affidavit.

Pete Mahony, director of Mahony & Sons, wrote in a statement that Mahony’s has employed “thousand of individuals” of “all different sex, race and religion and have never had a single incident of allegations against us that Mr. Smith is accusing.”

“We miss very much being part of the UBC community and it saddens us very much to hear of the slanderous false allegations against us Mr. Smith is claiming and the negative impact that could potentially have, on what we had believed, was a very positive legacy for our family business in the UBC community,” Mahony wrote.

Smith is seeking damages of $66,000, equivalent to 12 months notice.

Mahony & Sons denied “each and every allegation contained in the Notice of Claim unless expressly admitted.”

The restaurant alleged that Smith unilaterally changed his work schedule from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m, Monday to Friday, and therefore was “unable to meet his job duties under this work schedule.” The company’s reply on April 12, 2019 to the notice of claim further denied that Smith suffered “loss or damage as alleged or at all.”

Pete Mahony wrote that Smith was “well liked and a great success story for Mahony’s” due to how long he stayed with the company.

He added that the schedule of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. “simply does not work for a head chef in our restaurant business,” noting that head chefs in other locations work a combination of days, nights and weekends.

“This case is simply about a scheduling conflict. Plain and simple. Mr. Smith not wanting to work the required hours that the business needed from the head chef position,” Mahony wrote.

Smith said that the delay of the court dates are due to his need to self-isolate after a COVID-19 outbreak at the long-term care home where he worked and his recent acceptance to the University of Fraser Valley’s teacher education program.

He said he plans to reschedule the court dates for after he completes the program.

"I don't want revenge, which is why I waited so long to tell it because I want my heart to be in the right place,” Smith said. “I don't want it to be about revenge at all because it's not, I'd rather see a man changed than a man in chains. I don't want them in bondage, I don't want them hurt. All I want is to see positive change.”

The case has not yet been tried in small claims court or before the Human Rights Tribunal. The Ubyssey will continue covering this story as it develops.