Helen O'Driscoll, Mary Sparling, Teresa Moriarty, Helen O'Brien.(Represented by Liam F Coughlin and Company, Solicitors) V Hotel Balor Teo., International Hotel
The dispute concerns a complaint by four members of the Traveller community who sought access to the bar at the International Hotel, Killarney on the evening of 3rd March, 2001 and allege that they were refused service. The complainants say that the refusal was based on their membership of the Traveller community. The hearing took place at the Great Southern Hotel, Killarney, on 12th November 2003.
Summary of the complainants' case
The complainants entered the bar at the International Hotel on the night of 3rd March 2001 at approximately 9:30 pm. They were to have a drink together and did not intend to meet others in the bar. Two of the party, Teresa Moriarty and Mary Sparling went to the bar to order a drink but they were not served. They asked to speak to the manager Mr Terence Mulcahy but were told that he was not available. They did speak to the Assistant Manager Ms Catriona Moloney, but were not given an explanation as to why they were not being served. Two days later, On 5 March, Teresa Moriarty and Mary Sparling went to the International Hotel to speak to the General Manager, Mr Terence Mulcahy about the incident and to seek an explanation. Mr Mulcahy told them that he regretted what had happened but that there had been trouble in the hotel in the past involving Travellers and that the hotel had to be careful. As compensation for the inconvenience caused to the complainants, Mr Mulcahy offered them vouchers, which would permit them to return to the bar and have one drink at the hotel's expense. However, the vouchers would apply to only two of the party on one particular night, the 10th March. Separate vouchers were provided for the other two for another night, Saturday 17th March. When asked by the complainants, the management would not agree to the provision of vouchers which would allow all four of the complainants to avail of them on the same evening. In these circumstances the complainants decided not to make use of the vouchers and they did not return to the hotel.
Summary of the respondent's case
The bar in the International Hotel is primarily a resident's bar for the use of hotel guests although it does also cater to a passing trade. On certain occasions when there are a considerable number of guests staying at the hotel the management prefers not to have too many customers who are not residents. On the evening in question, the 3rd March 2001, there was a substantial number of guests staying in the hotel and although the bar was not full at 9:30 pm there was an expectation that it might be later. The management said that there was a group already in the hotel bar prior to the complainants' arrival, who were members of the Traveller community. It was felt that if the complainants were to join this group it would create an undesirable situation from the management's point of view. This view had nothing to do with the complainants' membership of the Traveller community but was related to the hotel's long-standing policy of discouraging large groups of any sort in the bar, irrespective of who they are. A group made up of football club members or of any other organisation would have been similarly discouraged and service would have been refused in the same way. The offer of vouchers for drinks was a sincere effort to mitigate the effects of the refusal to the complainants on the night in question. The management did not agree with the complainants that it was intended that they would have only one drink. The management said that a number of drinks could be purchased with the vouchers. The hotel management regretted the misunderstanding which had occurred and said that the complainants are welcome to the hotel at any time.
Conclusions of the Equality Officer
In the first instance I must consider whether the existence of a prim facie case has been established by the complainants. There are three key elements which need to be established to show that a prima facie case exists. These are:
(a)Applicability of the discriminatory ground (in this case the Traveller community
(b) Evidence of specific treatment of the complainant by the respondent
(c) Evidence that the treatment received by the complainant was less favourable than
the treatment other persons who are not Travellers would have received in similar
If and when these elements are established, the complainants have established a primafacie case and the burden of proof shifts, meaning that the difference in treatment isassumed to be discriminatory on the relevant ground. In such cases the claimant does notneed to prove that there is a link between the difference and membership of the ground,instead the respondent has to prove that there is not. I am satisfied that the complainantsare members of the Traveller community and are recognised as such by the hotelmanagement. This satisfies (a) above. The complainants allege that there was a refusal ofservice and the respondents acknowledge that this was the case. I accept that thissatisfies (b) above. I must therefore decide whether the alleged treatment received by thecomplainants was less favourable than the treatment a non-traveller would have received in similar circumstances. In coming to a decision in relation to this third test, I had particular regard to the following points which arose in the course of the evidence beinggiven at the hearing:
- The complainants are members of the Traveller community and this is not disputed by either party.
- Both parties are agreed that the complainants were refused service on the night in question.
- Evidence was given that on the 5th March, 2001, in discussion with two of the complainants, the Manager, Mr Terence Mulcahy said that the reason for the refusal was that there had been trouble with members of the Traveller community in the past. There was no statement given on the Manager's behalf to refute this and the Manager himself did not attend the hearing.
- The provision of vouchers to the complainants, for two separate evenings, thereby splitting the group in two, indicates at the very least, a reluctance on the part of management to allow as many as four members of the Traveller community to patronise the hotel together at any one time.
- It was stated that there was already a group of people on the premises who were members of the Traveller community and the creation of a large grouping would have been contrary to hotel policy. However, the complainants were alone and had no plans to join others in the bar. Furthermore the management could not identify the other party referred to.
- It is noted that the offer of vouchers was a genuine attempt to compensate thecomplainants for the refusal, although the conditions attaching to the offer had the effect of compounding the situation for the complainants. It is noted also that, at the hearing, the hotel management apologised for any distress which might have been caused by the refusal of service on the night in question. The hotel management stated that the four complainants would be welcome in the hotel in the future.
I find that a prima facie case for discrimination has been established by the complainants on the Traveller ground, in terms of section 3(1) and 3(2) (i) of the Equal Status Act 2000 and contrary to Section 5 (1) and that the respondents have failed to rebut the case.
Under Section 27 (1) of the Equal Status Act, 2000 redress may be ordered for the effects of the discrimination where a finding is in favour of a complainant. In making an award of compensation, I am mindful of the conciliatory attitude adopted by the management of the International Hotel in this matter since the date of the refusal of service and at the hearing itself. In the circumstances I order the respondents to pay each of the above named complainants the sum of €200 for the loss of amenity arising from the refusal of service on 3rd March 2001.
19 March, 2004