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Lesbian wins Zesty’s complaint

Comedian had other means to deal with disruption, tribunal rules

Comedian Guy Earle "had means to deal with perceived disruption to the show far short of his attack on her as a woman and as a lesbian," the Human Rights Tribunal ruled in Lorna Pardy's (above) favour on April 20. Credit: Nathaniel Christopher photo

The BC Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that Lorna Pardy’s complaints against Guy Earle and the owners of Zesty’s were justified and awarded her $22,500 plus interest in damages.

Lorna Pardy filed a human rights complaint against standup comic Guy Earle, who appeared at Zesty’s (now Zawa) in May 2007. In it, Pardy alleged she was discriminated against on the basis of sex and sexual orientation when Earle shouted a litany of homophobic and sexist slurs at her during and after his performance, and broke her sunglasses.

Earle allegedly called Pardy a “fucking dyke” and a “fucking cunt,” suggested she take her girlfriend home and fuck her up the ass with a strap-on, and suggested somebody stick a dick in her mouth and shut her up.

Zesty’s owner and manager Salam Ismail “did not intervene to prevent the tirade or the harassment from continuing,” Pardy told the tribunal.

Hearings into the complaint took place in March and April 2010. Several witnesses testified, including Pardy, her girlfriend and friends, Zesty’s staff, and comedians who performed at Zesty’s. Some witnesses said Earle’s comments were prompted by heckling from Pardy’s table and that Pardy splashed his face with water on two separate instances on the evening in question.

In his April 20 ruling, Murray Geiger-Adams found that Pardy wasn’t a heckler and that Earle “had means to deal with perceived disruption to the show far short of his attack on her as a woman and as a lesbian.”

Nor did Pardy provoke Earle, Geiger-Adams ruled.

“Ms Pardy did not provoke or invite Mr Earle’s first attack from the stage, and she was far from an equal participant thereafter. She did not match Mr Earle’s hostile and demeaning insults, engage in physical intimidation of him or destroy his property,” he found. “She did throw two glasses of water in his face, but that is a matter best considered as affecting the extent of any remedies to which she may be entitled, rather than as a justification for discriminatory conduct.”

Geiger-Adams further noted that none of the witnesses testified that Earle was telling jokes.

“It cannot fairly be suggested that the tone, content or context of Mr Earle’s words and actions directed at Ms Pardy were consistent with the [Human Rights] Code’s purposes of promoting ‘a climate of understanding and mutual respect where all are equal in dignity and rights’ or of ‘removing impediments to full and free participation in the economic, social, political and cultural life of British Columbia.’”

Rather, Earle “employed, and repeated, publicly, the most extreme terms that came to mind to directly attack [Pardy’s] identity and dignity as a woman and a lesbian. His attack showed every sign of being calculated to inflict as much damage as possible, in as short a time as possible, on her greatest vulnerabilities,” Geiger-Adams ruled.

Earle’s lawyer, Jim Millar, says his client is entitled to the freedom of artistic expression guaranteed by the Charter of Rights which, he says, trumps Pardy’s complaint.

Geiger-Adams ruled that nothing in the comedian’s routine justified violating Pardy’s Charter-guaranteed protection from discrimination.

“Mr Earle’s conduct was not reasonably related to any effort to deal with a disruption to the show. Mr Earle was not engaged in exposing the stereotypes of others,” he found. “Nothing about Mr Earle’s asserted purposes in verbally and physically attacking Ms Pardy on the basis of her sex and sexual orientation justified elevating his right to free expression over her right under the Code to be protected against his discriminatory conduct.”

Geiger-Adams also ruled that Earle was, in fact, an employee of Zesty’s at the time of the incident and that his acts were therefore deemed to be those of the owners. He held both Earle and the owners responsible and ordered all to cease contravening the Code and to refrain from committing the same or similar contraventions in the future.

He then ordered Earle to pay Pardy $15,000 plus interest and Zesty’s and Ismail to pay her $7,500 plus interest for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect.