Mass exit at Ruby’s Rhine­stone

Five em­ploy­ees of the down­town coun­try bar jointly quit over un­safe work en­vi­ron­ment.

The Coast - - THE CITY - BY JA­COB BOON

Ruby’s Rhine­stone Re­cep­tion and Lounge has only been open a few months and al­ready the Sal­ter Street busi­ness has seen a se­ri­ous turnover in staff.

Five em­ploy­ees of the down­town coun­try bar jointly walked out three weeks ago over al­le­ga­tions that owner Steve Caryi failed to pro­vide a safe work en­vi­ron­ment.

In a hand-writ­ten com­plaint sub­mit­ted to man­age­ment, bar­tender Jes­sica Sund­blad states that in her three weeks of em­ploy­ment she was re­peat­edly sex­u­ally ha­rassed by cus­tomers, and the bar’s owner did lit­tle to ad­dress it.

Dur­ing a manda­tory staff meet­ing that same week, man­ager Kristy Suther­land told Caryi that sev­eral of the em­ploy­ees felt un­happy with the work en­vi­ron­ment at Ruby’s. Ac­cord­ing to sev­eral em­ploy­ees present, Caryi re­sponded by stat­ing that wasn’t his prob­lem.

“He put his hand up and said it’s not his job to make us happy,” Sund­blad says.

So the five em­ploy­ees quit. Three servers, two of whom were just hired, chose to re­main.

Sund­blad’s ac­count of her com­plaint and the re­sult­ing res­ig­na­tions is backed by the four other em­ploy­ees who quit, three of whom asked to re­main anony­mous so as not to im­pact fu­ture em­ploy­ment.

The em­ploy­ees’ time­line of events was pre­sented to Caryi by The Coast. He re­sponded with a let­ter con­firm­ing sev­eral as­pects of Sund­blad’s story, while re­fut­ing out­right her claims that he treated her in­ap­pro­pri­ately and didn’t take her ac­cu­sa­tions se­ri­ously.

Caryi says the work­ers didn’t spec­ify a rea­son for quit­ting en masse and spec­u­lates it was about money. “I think it was a short­sighted at­tempt to ne­go­ti­ate more com­pen­sa­tion,” he writes via email.

All of the ex-em­ploy­ees deny money had any­thing to do with their de­ci­sion to leave Ruby’s. None of the work­ers had other jobs lined up be­fore quit­ting. Most are still look­ing for em­ploy­ment.

Sund­blad, a master’s of jour­nal­ism stu­dent, says she was only able to leave the job be­cause she could af­ford to sur­vive with­out the in­come for a cou­ple of months.

“It makes me re­ally sad to think that some­day if this hap­pens again, I might not be in the same po­si­tion of priv­i­lege where I can just quit a job or walk away from it,” she says. “That’s not al­ways a re­al­is­tic thing or a re­al­ity for all women or peo­ple in gen­eral.”

The Florida-based Caryi is also a lo­cal prop­erty de­vel­oper who owns ComVest Com­mer­cial. He made head­lines last year af­ter pur­chas­ing the Hol­lis Street build­ing that’s home to the Hal­i­fax Club. Ruby’s, which opened back in April, was the busi­ness owner’s at­tempt to in­ject a southern, cow­boy at­mos­phere into Hal­i­fax’s bar scene. But em­ploy­ees say the en­vi­ron­ment quickly crossed the line from ap­pro­pri­ate to un­safe. Dur­ing one shift, Sund­blad says a reg­u­lar cus­tomer made a graphic re­mark about per­form­ing oral sex on her. In her writ­ten com­plaint, she writes that when the sit­u­a­tion was brought to Caryi, he “laughed, told me to lighten up” and en­cour­aged her to let the cus­tomer apol­o­gize. Two days later, the same cus­tomer sat at the bar for her en­tire shift, mak­ing her feel un­com­fort­able. Sund­blad states in her com­plaint to man­age­ment that Caryi en­cour­aged her to keep serv­ing the cus­tomer drinks and even bought the man a beer him­self. The busi­ness owner ad­mits to buy­ing the pa­tron a drink, but says he was not aware at the time of the man’s prior be­hav­iour. The cus­tomer has since been banned from Ruby’s. That same week, Sund­blad vis­ited Ruby’s with her friends when she wasn’t work­ing. Caryi was also present with a party of peo­ple. In her writ­ten com­plaint, Sund­blad says a cus­tomer who was part of Caryi’s group con­tin­u­ally called her “baby” even af­ter be­ing told to stop and slapped her ass. He also graph­i­cally told her he wanted to have sex with her. Be­fore leav­ing that night, Sund­blad writes that Caryi kissed her on the cheek and told her how “sexy” she was. When she ap­proached him about those events a few days later, she claims Caryi had no mem­ory of the kiss or his com­ment. Caryi re­futes this ver­sion of events en­tirely. He says he in­ves­ti­gated the story and other al­le­ga­tions by speak­ing with the staff on duty and re­view­ing all se­cu­rity tapes. “There’s sim­ply no truth to that claim,” writes Caryi. “No other staff on duty recalled any­thing like this tak­ing place.” Sund­blad says she asked to see the se­cu­rity tapes in ques­tion but was told they could no longer be found. Both Sund­blad and Caryi ad­mit they were drink­ing that night, though nei­ther claim to ex­cess. Caryi does say he bought Sund­blad and her friends two rounds that evening. Work­ing that night be­hind the bar was one of the five em­ploy­ees who later quit. She says she didn’t see Sund­blad leave or wit­ness Caryi’s al­leged ac­tions. She does tell The Coast her boss seemed vis­i­bly in­tox­i­cated and Sund­blad ap­peared un­com­fort­able with his group of friends. The busi­ness owner says that, while he was shocked by Sund­blad’s con­cerns, he “set other work aside to en­sure she was not de­nied the op­por­tu­nity to fully share her ver­sion of events.” He also of­fered to em­ploy her else­where if she was un­com­fort­able serv­ing cus­tomers at Ruby’s. She de­clined.

“I told him that I wasn’t look­ing to be put some­where else in the busi­ness,” says Sund­blad. “I was just look­ing to not be sex­u­ally ha­rassed at work.”

Af­ter meet­ing with Caryi about her com­plaint, Sund­blad drafted a blank res­ig­na­tion let­ter and shared it with other staff who were also un­happy.

“A lot of the other girls had also been deal­ing with a lot of th­ese is­sues, but no one had re­ally said any­thing,” says Sund­blad about the work­place stress at Ruby’s. “No­body should have to be tak­ing this home with them, or cry­ing at work, or af­ter work.”

Kayla Lyn Poole had been work­ing at Ruby’s for two months. It was her first ser­vice in­dus­try job. The 22-year-old says she wasn’t sur­prised to see in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour from cus­tomers, but was shocked that it could come from an em­ployer. It’s why she chose to sign Sund­blad’s let­ter.

“I pride my­self on my per­son­al­ity and who I am as a per­son, and I don’t want to give my time or my ef­fort to some­body that’s go­ing to treat their em­ploy­ees like that,” says Poole. “I think that every­one should feel com­fort­able in what they’re do­ing and you should be able to ex­press your opin­ions and ex­press your­self if you feel un­safe.”

Caryi says he takes any al­le­ga­tions made against him or his busi­ness “very se­ri­ously,” and that he aims to “run op­er­a­tions that are hos­pitable and com­fort­able for both our cus­tomers and our staff.”

“I be­lieve my staff and I have re­sponded ap­pro­pri­ately to Jes­sica’s con­cerns,” he writes. “If she does not agree, there are other venues where she can seek res­o­lu­tion.”

None of the em­ploy­ees have filed any com­plaints with the Labour Board, though those who spoke to The Coast said it was an op­tion they’re still con­sid­er­ing.

Sund­blad says she doesn’t re­ally care what hap­pens to Ruby’s now that she’s no longer em­ployed at the bar, but she does want women in the lo­cal ser­vice in­dus­try to know they de­serve to be treated with re­spect.

“I just hope that th­ese girls can walk away from this and know that’s not how you de­serve to be treated,” she says. “Every­one has a voice, and there’s power in your voice.”

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