A Customer V A Tourist Hostel
Equal Status Act, 2000 - Race Ground 3 (2) (h) Provision of goods and services Section 5 (1)- Establishment of a Prima Facie case - Arranged time of Arrival- Payment arrangements- Refusal of Service -Remarks exchanged
Delegation under the Equal Status Act, 2000
The complainant referred a complaint of discrimination on the Race ground to the Director of Equality Investigations. In accordance with her powers under Section 75 of the Employment Equality Act, 1998 the Director has delegated the investigation, hearing and decision in this case and the exercise of other relevant functions of the Director under part III of the Equal Status Act, 2000 to Mary O'Callaghan an Equality Officer. The hearing of the complaint was held on Thursday 23rd October 2003.
The complainant alleges he booked accommodation in the respondent hostel through a tourist agency on October 10th 2001. He said that on arrival at the hostel his booking wasn't honoured and he had to leave. He alleges that comments were directed at him which he believes amount to discrimination because of his Irish nationality. Discrimination due to one's different race nationality or ethnic origin is contrary to Sections 3 (1) and 3 (2)(h) of the Equal Status Act 2000.
The respondent denies any discrimination towards the complainant and said that he (the complainant) was not accommodated because of his non compliance with the booking arrangements on his booking form.
The complainant, the respondent and the receptionist at the respondent hostel gave evidence at the hearing.
Summary of the Complainant's Case
The complainant said that he was going through a particularly stressful time during which he had been bereaved, due to the death of two immediate family members in close succession, when he went to the tourist accommodation agency run by a friend of his on 10th October 2001 to seek assistance in getting accommodation for the night. He said that his friend phoned the respondent hostel and arranged the booking with the receptionist and then gave him a copy of the reservation and a cheque to cover the cost of the accommodation as the complainant did not have any cash available to him at the time. The arrangement was that he would arrive at the hostel during lunch time or shortly thereafter. The complainant said that due to the difficulties he was experiencing in his personal life at the time he needed to contact a support group and attend a meeting of that group which he did once he had got an accommodation booking. He later attended a further meeting that day and did not go to the respondent hostel until approximately 10 p.m. that night.
The complainant said that when he arrived at the hostel the receptionist started to check him in and they exchanged small talk about who was staying at the hostel and where they were from. He said everything seemed to be going well until he submitted the booking form and cheque for payment. He said that she told him that they don't take cheques so he asked for the owner and the receptionist went to the phone but told him that she could not contact the owner. She also dialled the number of the tourist accommodation agency without success. He said that the receptionist told him that she could not book him in as she could not accept a cheque for payment for his accommodation. He said the discussion between them became more heated at this point as he was very tired and anxious to get some sleep. The complainant said that he then asked the receptionist if there problem with him or the cheque and that she replied "it is you because you're Irish." The complainant said that he then left the hostel and secured accommodation elsewhere that night. The complainant said believes that the respondent operates an anti Irish approach to his business. He now lives quite near the respondent hostel and from his observations of the hostel he has not noticed any Irish customers arriving.
Summary of the Respondent's Case
The respondent said that he has run the hostel since 1997 and that it is a hostel registered with Bord Fáilte and operates in accordance with the standards required by that organisation. While the hostel is primarily aimed at holiday makers, its clientele is not exclusively confined to this group. The hostel is in close proximity to the Mater Hospital and at times people visiting and using the hospital stay at the hostel. He said that everyone is welcome at the hostel and that both Irish and non Irish people stay there. The guests are of mixed ages and backgrounds. He said it the type of business where everyone would be welcomed. The respondent said that in compliance with the booking conditions on the booking form provided to the complainant, they expect patrons to arrive at the appointed time or inform them of any change. If a booking hasnot been taken up within a few hours of the appointed time the booking falls as the hostel needs to have the opportunity to rent that accommodation to secure income. The hostel will not accept cheque payments for accommodation unless that cheque is provided at least one week prior to the guest arriving at the hostel. This rule is to allow for the clearance of cheques through a bank prior to the guest's arrival and is strictly applied. The only forms of payment acceptable on the date of arrival are credit card payments and cash payments. In the case of the complainant he was not able to provide payment by either of these two methods.
The respondent said that there are a number of private tourist accommodation agencies as well as Bord Fáilte affiliated agencies who book clients in to the hostel. They do so on the basis of earning a booking fee/commission from each person they refer to a hostel or guest house. These agencies would be well aware of the rules regarding the acceptance of cheque payments as it is a standard procedure observed by nearly all operators of this type of business. The respondent said that the nature of the business is that people tend to stay only one or two nights and it is, therefore, essential that cheques would be cleared through a bank before accepting a cheque payment. He said that this rule has applied to guests in his hostel since he has run the business. The respondent said that it was his understanding that the receptionist had attempted to check the complainant into the hostel even as far as making attempts to contact the booking agency when she discovered the only form of payment the complainant had available was a cheque. The late hour at which the complainant turned up prevented her from contacting the agency.
The respondent's receptionist said she has been working in the hostel for about 2-3 years having broken her service there for a few months when she returned to her native Poland. She said that she remembers the complainant's booking being made but that the agency making the booking was not one she was very familiar with. She said the complainant had arrived several hours after the appointed time. She said that initially the complainant was quite calm but was asking her about the nationalities of those staying and working in the hostel. She said that she was proceeding to check him in but she could not do so when she realised that the only form of payment he had was a cheque. She said that there was a note attached to the booking from the agent giving a contact number if there was a problem. She attempted to contact that number but there was no reply.
She said that she told the complainant that she could not check him in and he became very angry and he started shouting at her. She said that he told her that she wasn't checking him in because she was racist. He said that she wouldn't even check him in in his own country and that English wasn't her first language. She said that she responded by saying "it is you who are the racist." She said that she did not say that there was a problem with him because he was Irish and that she had dealt with Irish guests at the hostel on several occasions. She said that she would never say such a thing. She said that the shouting drew the attention of another member of staff who came along from the kitchen area because of the noise and she attempted to calm things down. The receptionist said that she was extremely upset and stressed by the episode and she went to a smoking room to have a cigarette and calm down as she was frightened and shaking. When she returned to the desk area, after a short while, the complainant was on his way out the door.
Conclusions of the Equality Officer
In considering this complaint I must in the first instance consider whether the complainant has established a prima facie case of discrimination. In order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination three criteria must be met. These are:
(1) that he is covered by the relevant discriminatory ground, in this case the race ground
(2) that he has been subjected to specific treatment by the respondent.
(3) that he has been treated less favourably than someone of a different race, nationality or ethnic origin would have been treated in similar circumstances. The complainant has said that he is Irish and this is not disputed by the respondent and so by virtue of his nationality I accept that he has satisfied the criterion outlined at
(1) above. On the occasion of the incident complained of he was refused accommodation at the respondent hostel and I consider this to satisfy the criterion of specific treatment set out at (2) above.
As stated above, in order for the third criterion to be satisfied the complainant must show that he was treated less favourably by the respondent than another customer who was of different race nationality or ethnic origin would have been treated in similar circumstances. In this case the complainant failed to arrive at the respondent hostel at the time arranged and made no attempt to contact the hostel to say that he would be late arriving. The respondent has stated that cheques payable on the date of arrival are not an acceptable type of payment, due to the transience of the clienteleusing this form of tourist accommodation. The complainant has stated that this was the only means of payment he had available to him at the time. I am satisfied that the respondent applies the rule in relation to the acceptance of cheques to all customers. It is unfortunate especially due to the difficult personal situation of the complainant at the time of this incident that the payment given to him by the tourist agent was in this format. The difficulties arising from this and the fact that the agent was not contactable by the late hour that the complainant arrived at the hostel appear to be the main reasons underlying the refusal of the complainant by the respondent on this occasion. I find, therefore, that the complainant has not succeeded in satisfying the third criterion and therefore he has not succeeded in establishing a prima facie case of discrimination.
In relation to remarks exchanged between the complainant and the receptionist at the hostel, I have not found the evidence suggesting that remarks were made, which attributed the refusal of service to the complainant's nationality, compelling in this instance. The evidence of both parties involved in this exchange points to a situation existing where factors other than the provision of accommodation on the night may have inflamed an already stressful situation.
In reaching my decision I took the following factors into account:
- The late arrival of the complainant at the respondent premises despite having arranged to come earlier.
- The fact that on this occasion an unacceptable form of payment was the only payment available.
- The evidence (verified subsequent to the hearing1) that the hostel accommodates guests of many nationalities including Irish people.
- The evidence that the receptionist at the hostel attempted to contact the referring agent regarding the difficulties but was unsuccessful.
In this case I find that the complaint of discrimination on the race ground has not been upheld and that the finding is for the respondent.
12 December 2003
The respondent submitted guest registration records to the tribunal at the request of the Equality Officer following the hearing.
Copies were provided to the complainant for consideration.