Martin & Sarah Stokes V Vesey Inns Limited, t/a Vesey Arms Inn
1.1 This dispute concerns claims by Martin & Sarah Stokes that on 5 April 2002, they were denied a service in the respondent premises on the grounds that they are membersof the Traveller community. The respondent denies that discrimination occurred. The complainant referred a claim to the Director of Equality Investigations under the Equal Status Act 2000.In accordance with her powers under Section 75 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 and under the Equal Status Act 2000, the Director then delegated the case to me, Dolores Kavanagh, an Equality Officer, for investigation, hearing and decision and for the exercise of other relevant functions of the Director under Part III of the Equal Status Act.
2. Summary of Complainants' Case
2.1 The complainant's state that they attended at the respondent premises circa 6.30 p.m.on 5 April 2002 and had two drinks in a two hour period. When one of their companions ordered a third drink for himself the group was refused service by a member of the respondent's staff on. The complainants were not given a reason for the refusal of service.
3. Summary of Respondent's Case
3.1 The respondent states that the complainants, along with two companions, were refused service because they were loud and noisy and it was decided by the bar staff that they had had enough to drink.
4 Prima Facie Case
4.1. At the outset, I must first consider whether the existence of a prima 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) Membership of a discriminatory ground (e.g. the Traveller community ground)
(b) Evidence of specific treatment of the complainant by the respondent
(c) Evidence that the treatment received by the complainants was less favourable than the treatment someone, not covered by that ground, would have received in the same, or similar circumstances.
4.2 If and when those elements are established, the burden of proof shifts, meaning that the difference in treatment is assumed to be discriminatory on the relevant ground. In such cases the claimant does not need to prove that there is a link between the difference and the membership of the ground, instead the respondent has to prove that there is not. If they succeed in establishing prima facie evidence, the burden of proof then shifts to the respondent to rebut the inference of discrimination.
5 Prima Facie Case - Complainant
5.1 The complainants are Travellers and this is accepted by the respondent. This fulfils (a) at 4.1 above. Both parties agree that the complainants were refused service on 5 April2002. This fulfils (b) at 4.1 above. In relation to key element (c) above it is necessary to examine the evidence presented to see if the complainants were treated less favourably than a non -Traveller would be treated in the same or similar circumstances.
5.2 The complainant, Martin Stokes stated in evidence that he and his wife, Sarah, had been gone to the respondent premises along with Ms. Stokes' brother and his wife. They intended having a casual drink. Each member of the group had two drinks. Ms. Stokes'brother then ordered another drink for himself from a lounge boy. The latter was on his way back to their table with the drink when he was called back to the bar by one of the barmen.The lounge boy then approached the group and said that he could not serve them. Ms.Stokes' brother went to the bar and asked for an explanation for the refusal of service. Mr.Martin Stokes followed him to the bar and also asked for an explanation. They were toldthat the barman did not have to give them a reason. They left and went to another premiseswhere they attend regularly and had no difficulty getting service there. They remained in the other premises for the night.Each of the complainants denies that they had more than two drinks at the time of the refusal and state that a group of non-Travellers who were seated at a nearby table were very loud and noisy and were served continuously. They feel that this group may have drawn the barman's attention and they, the complainants and their companions, were refused service because of the actions of this other group.
5.3 The senior barman in the respondent premises on the night in question states in evidence that on returning from his break he was passing near where the complainants were seated and his attention was drawn to the complainants and their companions by the noise they were making. One of the group, a male, was slumped in his seat with his foot resting on a stool. The barman consulted with other members of staff and it was decided that the group had had enough to drink. The barman called the lounge boy and told him to inform the group that they would not be served and to ask that one of the group come up to the bar to speak with the barman. The barman remained behind the bar because some weeks earlier he had approached a customer to tell him that he would not be served further and the customer had tried to assault him.
5.4 The licensee of the respondent premises stated that the pub's policy is that all customers be served unless there is good reason not to serve a group or individual. Staff members have been updated in relation to the operation of the equality legislation since the introduction of the Equal Status Act 2000.
5.5 Mr. Martin Stokes, complainant, has stated that this may have been a case of misidentification on the part of the barman. The fact that the complainant himself has stated that a case of misidentification may have taken place indicates there may havebeen nondiscriminatory reasons for the refusal of service. Therefore, on balance, it is atleast as likely that the complainants were refused service on the basis of amisidentification as on thebasis of their Traveller identity. The two companions whoattended at the respondent premises along with the complainants on the date in questiondid not attend at the Hearing of these complaints. Having regard to all of the evidencepresented in this matter I am not satisfiedon the balance of probabilities that thecomplainants were discriminated against on theTraveller community ground.In short, thecomplainants have not established that they were treated in a less favourable mannerbecause they are Travellers or that non-Travellers would have been treated morefavourably in the same or similar circumstances. The complainants have not thereforefulfilled (c) at 4(1) above. They have not therefore established a prima facie case ofdiscrimination on the Traveller community ground.
Having considered all of the evidence provided in this matter I am satisfied that the complainants have not established a prima facie case of discrimination on the Traveller community ground. I find therefore that the complainants were not discriminated against on the Traveller community ground contrary to Section 3(1)(a), and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Act 2000 and in terms of Section 5(1) of that Act.
30 November, 2004