When Michael Gale landed a job at an Oshawa Marshalls store he was excited.
It felt like a promising experience where he could move up and most of all be himself. But when he reported instances of discrimination, he says management started looking for reasons to let him go.
“If you go to Gay Pride, you see Marshalls, HomeSense and Winners plastered all over the pride flags, so I felt it was going to be an accepting place,” said Gale.
The rude comments, Gale says, started a few months into his new job after he opened up to a co-worker about his sexuality.
‘Find a nice woman and settle down’
“There was one day when I came in with my nails painted black and I walked in and said, ‘Hey,’ to the head manager at the time. As I walked past her she started having a conversation that nail polish on men is disgusting,” said Gale.
At first, the 29-year-old says he took the comments in stride and would even laugh it off when one of his older female colleagues told him to “find a nice woman and settle down.”
It was only when two of his friends pulled him aside, saying a few managers were making fun of him for being gay that he knew something was wrong.
“They told me they were pulled into the office to discuss me, to discuss my sexual orientation and my background,” said Gale.
Jewelle Snow has known Gale for a long time. She had been working at the Marshalls on Harmony Road North for more than two years when she says her colleagues started asking her questions about Gale’s dating history. Then there was one experience where management called her into the office to talk about Gale’s past.
“It made me uncomfortable,” said Snow. “They don’t have any right to want to know about the people he’s dated.”
There were also several instances where Snow says Gale was mocked when he wasn’t around. Staff would pick up something pink and feminine and call out, “wouldn’t Michael like this?”
Investigation found Gale was targeted
Armed with this information from his friends, Gale filed a complaint with human resources June 2018.
After an investigation was conducted, Gale received a letter in July from the company’s Regional HR manager, stating his store’s management had “participated in conversations that were hurtful to [him] and against Human Rights protected ground of sexuality.”
The letter goes on to state that the matter was closed after formal warnings were issued.
Gale says the environment at work got more uncomfortable and challenging after his human resources complaint. Although he was no longer being made fun of, he says managers and/or supervisors started giving him “impossible tasks” he couldn’t complete.
On his final day in October, he says one manager told him to organize a section that he wasn’t responsible for. When he explained he wouldn’t have time to get to it before opening, he says she threatened to write him up.
“I told her, ‘Go right ahead’, but I’m going to contact human resources,” said Gale.
He left work and called human resources. But he says that complaint resulted in him losing his job.
“Personally, I think they fired me because they didn’t like me. They were trying to come up with a reason to let me go,” said Gale.
He said Marshalls’ parent company “is supposed to be really friendly to the LGBTQ community and it wasn’t.”
Gale has since filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
Committed to ‘environment of inclusion,’ parent company says
CBC Toronto contacted TJX Companies, which owns Marshalls, and received an emailed statement.
“We value diversity and are committed to creating an environment of inclusion,” the statement reads.
As the matter is before the Human Rights Tribunal, “it would be inappropriate” to comment further, the email says.
The whole incident has left Gale “feeling terrible,” he said.
“Every time I go near somebody now when I’m in a workplace, I always have to question what are they thinking? Are they judging me?”