Servers at fine-dining restaurants are predominantly men—I was one of the few women. You have to wear a tuxedo, you need to have a lot of experience, and you have to cook at the table.
Six months into the job, I was keeping an eye on my tables, a heavily trafficked area, when one of the owners, who was bartending, walked by me and grabbed my crotch area. He was tall and he had really big, strong hands. It wasn’t only humiliating, it also hurt. I remember being so startled. I didn’t say anything, because I thought he had made a mistake and that he must have meant to grab my elbow or something else. Two weeks later, it happened again.
Then it continued. I don’t know exactly how many times it happened. When it was slow, I would scream and tell him, “Don’t do that.” He would never apologize. Instead, he would say, “What’s your problem? What are you talking about?” I think it became a game for him. I started to feel like he was doing it to me because I was Latina. I wondered if he thought of me as lesser in some way, but I refuse to see my race as something that limits me. It made me feel unworthy. My mind would start running: maybe he thought I deserved it, maybe he didn’t think I was good enough. He had a daughter and he wouldn’t appreciate this being done to his daughter, so why was he doing it to me?
I had a mortgage to pay and I was putting myself through school. I had to keep my job, so I continued to put up with it. It wasn’t until I saw a coworker get harassed that my mind changed. One day, I was working with a 17-year-old busgirl and she dropped some glasses. I was around 30 at the time. I ran to help her clean it up. But by the time I got there, he was already there. He was scolding her and questioning her about what happened. He then grabbed one of her breasts. He was talking to her the exact same way he talked to me.
After that, I just felt that everything that I had blamed myself for didn’t make sense, because this young girl was the complete opposite of me. Her dad was an anesthesiologist, so she came from a high-class family. She came to me after I was cleaning tables and she said,“ You know, I have seen this happen to you. I don’t understand why you don’t say anything. This is not right.” I started thinking, “I have a responsibility to this young girl. It’s not even about me anymore. I’m an adult and I needed to protect her.”
The next day, the young girl got a call from the owner’s son, who worked at the restaurant, and told her whatever happened the night before, it was all my fault because she’s putting this in your head. He then told her to come into work. I knew right there I didn’t have a job anymore. A couple of days later, I, the young girl and another co-worker went to the Human Rights Commission.
During the whole investigation process, the main question that you’re asked is, “What did you do?” There was never empathy. It was never, “We believe you.” There’s never any support. The Human Rights Commission found him guilty, but the media coverage was harsh.
For example, the owner told a journalist that he sent me home once because I came to work wearing this tiny little skirt; he said he told me to go home because we’re selling food here, not sex. They printed this and it was humiliating that they would do that without even investigating it. We all had to wear tuxedos and co-workers would have verified that detail. They never interviewed me either, and nobody ever heard my side of the story. Not one publication even spoke negatively of the perpetrators; instead, they sympathized with the harasser.
I was so embarrassed. In one publication, they wrote: “A Regina restaurateur says he was surprised and hurt when he learned a former staff member had laid a human rights complaint alleging sexual harassment.” These publications focused on the harm and pain my harasser was in, not what I had to endure working there or during the trial. As far as the serving industry goes, I was blacklisted. I had so much experience and I was such a good waitress, and it didn’t matter.
When I started my current job, every time I answered the phone, I had to say my name. I felt like I was the only Juliany in the whole world, and I was ashamed people would know who I was and make that link to the news story. I asked my boss if I could call myself by a different name on the phone so that I didn’t feel that shame. This went on for years.
I went to buy sunglasses one time and the owner started talking about this restaurant, since it was popular. I asked if she heard about what happened there. She said, “Of course, but those girls just wanted money, like they’re just troublemakers.” When you see that everything else turns against you, even the news, you always resort to self-blame. The media should be ashamed about how they portrayed me. The media failed me and nobody did anything.
Coming out and saying what happened to me was worse than letting it happen.