Sikh not mocked in hard hat row, hearing told

Aug 18, 2009 04:30 AM


A Sikh security guard who would not don a hard hat at a Home Depot store under construction was not mocked or told he could be fired, according to testimony from an assistant manager heard before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario yesterday.

"Did you ever say anything that could be construed that you or Home Depot would fire people who would refuse to remove their turban?" asked Kevin MacNeill, lawyer for Home Depot and assistant manager Brian Busch.

Busch replied, "No, I did not."

Busch’s description of what happened at the Milton store was in sharp contrast to testimony from Deepinder Loomba, who was before the tribunal in January.

Loomba, who works for Reilly’s Security, testified that on Dec. 6, 2005, he was told he could be fired after he refused to follow Busch’s instructions to put on a hard hat.

The store was under construction and six weeks from being completed at the time. Loomba told the tribunal his position involved sitting at a desk away from the construction zones and patrolling the perimeter of the facility. He said he was not instructed by Reilly’s or Home Depot to wear a helmet.

Loomba said after Busch arrived and told him to put on a hard hat – which would force Loomba to remove his turban – he was mocked by Busch and other workers, and his turban was referred to as "a piece of cloth."

During yesterday’s hearing, MacNeill asked Busch: "At any time on that day did a group of workers laugh at Mr. Loomba in your presence," and "Did you ever laugh at Mr. Loomba in a very loud way, as he alleges?"

Busch denied all of the claims. He and MacNeill declined to comment to the Star on the day’s proceedings.

Detailed notes made by Loomba in 2005, during his conversations with Busch, have been entered as evidence. Yesterday, Loomba’s attorney, Raj Anand, asked Busch if he thought Loomba had fabricated the events.

Busch replied, "I don’t know what Mr. Loomba did."

Outside the hearing, Anand said that Busch’s responses were not a surprise: "He denies most of the rude and offensive comments that were recorded by Mr. Loomba … So there will be a credibility contest between them which the tribunal will have to resolve."

There’s also the question of how a store acts when a policy may interfere with an individual’s religious beliefs, said Anand.

The tribunal heard that Busch had been employed by Home Depot for 13 years, had received formal health and safety training and had served as chair of the store’s health and safety committee. He said he had also received human rights training.

Busch said while he was not the direct supervisor of the site, safety was a shared responsibility and anyone not wearing a hard hat inside a construction zone would be asked to leave. He said he believed the security guards were responsible for patrolling the interior of the building.

Loomba wants recognition that his religious beliefs were violated. He also seeks changes to store policy and $40,000 in damages. He said he has suffered stress and medical issues, and is working reduced hours.

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