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Canadian woman files complaint claiming she doesn't have to wear a bra at work if men don't

A woman filed a human rights complaint against her employer because she believes she should not have to wear a bra at work. (Photo by James McCauley via Getty Images)

Forcing women to wear a bra in the workplace when men don’t have to may be discriminatory. That’s what some young women in Canada are saying and at least one attorney agrees.

"It's unnecessary," Kate Gosek, a 19-year-old cook at McDonald's in Selkirk, Manitoba, told CBC News. She reported that several managers have badgered her about not wearing a bra. One of them prodded her shoulder in search of a bra strap, she claims.

"She just told me that I should put on a bra because, McDonald's — we are a polite restaurant and no one needs to see that,” Gosek told the news outlet.

Why was a human rights complaint filed?

Christina Schell, 25, took it a step further. She filed a human rights complaint that claims it was discriminatory for her former employer — the Osoyoos Golf Club in Osoyoos, British Columbia — to require female staff to wear a bra.

So can employers compel women to wear one? A British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal will decide whether Schell's complaint holds true. A hearing date has not been set yet, the report stated.

"It's gender-based and that's why it's a human rights issue," Schell told the news outlet. "I have nipples and so do the men."

Schell told the CBC News she stopped wearing bras more than two years ago because they’re uncomfortable.

"They're horrible," Schell, who worked as a server at the golf club's restaurant in May, said.

A few weeks later, the club issued a mandate that woman must wear either a tank top or bra under their uniform. Schell's job entailed serving customers on an outdoor patio in hot weather, and she didn’t want to wear an undershirt, either.

"It was absurd," she said. "Why do you get to dictate what's underneath my clothes?"

Schell claims management told her the rule was for her protection because of what happens at golf clubs when alcohol is involved.

Schell refused to comply and was fired. Then she decided to file her complaint.

Employment lawyer Nadia Zaman told CBC News that employers require can gender-specific dress codes, if they've based on safety reasons, for example. She doesn’t believe bras fall into that category.

"If they simply require that female employees wear a bra but then they don't have a similar requirement for males, and they can't really justify that...then there is a risk that their policy's going to be deemed to be discriminatory," Zaman said.

She points to the Ontario Human Rights Commission which ruled in 2016 to end "sexist dress codes" that apply only to female staff. That includes high heels and short skirts, the commission ruled.

"They're basically saying that sexual harassment and gender-based dress codes are off the menu and they're no longer being tolerated," said Zaman, who works at the Rudner Law firm in Toronto.

Gosek, the McDonald's employee, also believes she has the right to go braless in the workplace, despite managers' demands that she wear one.

She claims a female manager advised her to put one on, while looking at her chest.

"She told me they're distracting, Gosek said.

The fast-food restaurant has said Gosek is not violating any rules, just a basic appearance expectation that women will wear a bra.

What's next?

Meanwhile, Schell is waiting to hear the outcome of her human rights complaint to learn if bras are a justifiable job requirement.

"It doesn't affect anybody's ability to do their job," she said.

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