Woman fired after shaving head for cancer charity
Published Thursday, June 5, 2008 5:52PM EDT
OWEN SOUND, Ont. - When she took part in a local fundraiser for cancer research, all Stacey Fearnall thought she had to lose was a full head of hair.
Instead, the 36-year-old waitress at Nathaniels restaurant in Owen Sound, Ont., who raised more than $2,700 for the charity Cops for Cancer in exchange for her locks, was laid off when she showed up for work earlier this week with a shorn head.
"She had been a little nervous all day long, but I think she was still hoping in her heart that she'd walk in there and they'd be like, 'Oh, wow -- you look great,''' Fearnall's husband John said in an interview Thursday.
"But that's not the reaction she got.''
The mother of two, who was told by her boss to go home after she refused to wear a wig, was in tears when she returned home Tuesday just a half hour into her shift.
"When she went in she felt like there was something wrong with her,'' her husband said.
"Nobody would really look at her, make eye contact. They didn't really say anything and it made her feel kind of less than human.''
It was a slow night so she came home early, but when she called to say she'd be in the next day, she was told not to bother, he added.
Nathaniels owner and chef Dan Hilliard defended his decision, saying the restaurant has certain standards. He prohibits male staff from wearing earrings and requires employees keep their hair at a reasonable length.
Fearnall is still on the payroll and she can return to work once she grows her hair back, he said, adding she was offered the summer off to spend time with her kids.
Fearnall, who also works in a plant nursery and as a caterer, told The Owen Sound Sun Times she was shocked by what happened.
"I honestly can't believe this is happening,'' she said. "It's ridiculous that I would be punished for doing a good thing.''
The restaurant owners said they told Fearnall well in advance they wouldn't be pleased if she participated in the fundraiser and suggested she could have found other ways to support the cause.
But Fearnall said she never got a clear answer when she asked if she'd still have a job if she went through with her plan.
Fearnall decided to take part in the popular fundraiser because cancer has struck close to home in recent years. Her father died of the disease five years ago and a cousin and close friend are currently battling the disease.
John Fearnall said it would be nice if his wife got an apology and noted she's not likely to return to the job, even when her hair grows back.
"She was surprised by the treatment. (The owners are) nice people. They're good people. It's just surprising the way that they treated her and I think that was what hurt her so much.''
He said he called the Ontario Labour Relations Board and was told the family has little recourse but to consider filing a human rights complaint.
"I think the court of public opinion is going to be enough, perhaps at this point,'' he said.
Hilliard admitted the story isn't great PR for the restaurant, but as far as he's concerned, it's an internal staff problem.
Besides, he said he's already heard from some customers who agree with him and say they would have been "appalled'' to have been served at Fearnall's table.
Still, not everybody agrees. The incident has left some fellow restaurateurs shaking their heads.
"I'm totally shocked. I'm actually totally shocked as well as all of my customers,'' said Wanda Doubt, who owns the nearby restaurant Wanda's and Mike's.
"That's absolutely ridiculous. Cops for Cancer, there couldn't be a better charity.''
Jen Wright of the Bluewater Cancer Society said she's never heard of anything like this.
"It apparently has not happened anywhere across Canada, according to the Canadian Cancer Society,'' she said.
"We support her and thank her and all the participants for all the money that they have raised over the years.''