Tom and Veronica Battles V The Killarney Heights Hotel, (represented by Terence F. Casey & Co, Solicitors)
1.1 This dispute concerns a complaint by Tom and Veronica Battles that they were discriminated against, contrary to the Equal Status Act 2000, by the management of the Killarney Heights Hotel, Killarney. The complainants maintain that they were discriminated against on the Traveller community ground in terms of sections 3(1), 3(1)(b) and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Act 2000 in not being provided with a service which is generally available to the public contrary to Section 5(1) of the Act.
2. Summary of the Complainant's Case
2.1 Veronica Battles, who is a member of the Traveller community, claims that, on 15 May 2003, she and her sister were refused a drink in the hotel by barstaff. However, after speaking with the bar manager, she says that she received an apology and a complimentary drink. Two days later, on 17 May 2003, Tom and Veronica Battles were refused admission to the hotel by the General Manager who refused to give them a reason. Veronica Battles believes that she was refused because she is a Traveller while her husband, Tom Battles, who is a non-Traveller, believes that he was discriminated against by association because of his marriage to a member of the Traveller community..
3. Summary of Respondent's Case
3.1 The respondents denied that their actions constituted discrimination and said that the refusal took place because of a number of incidents involving Travellers which had occurred in the hotel, immediately prior to the incidents complained of.
4 Delegation under the Equal Status Act, 2000
4.1 These complaints were referred 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 has delegated these complaints to myself, Brian O'Byrne, 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, 2000.
5.1 Evidence of Parties
- On Thursday 15 May 2003, Veronica Battles and her sister Bridget Harrington visited the Killarney Heights Hotel for a drink which had been their custom for a number of years.
- They were served one drink by barstaff but when Veronica Battles went to the bar to
order a second round, she says she was ignored by a barwoman. Eventually, the
barwoman told her that she could not serve her.
- Mrs Battles said that she then demanded to see the barmanager and, having spoken to him for a few minutes, she received a verbal apology and a complimentary drink.
- Later that evening, she noticed the hotel owner, Bernard Rearden on the premises and told him what had happened. She says that Mr Rearden told her that the hotel had had an incident involving Travellers a week before which may have led to the refusal of service but that she should have "no problem from now on".
- Bridget Harrington gave evidence at the Hearing on 15 September 2004 that she was with Veronica Battles on 15 May 2003 and confirmed that Mrs Battles had not been served at the bar. Mrs Harrington stated, however, that she had not heard the conversation between Mrs Battles and the barwoman nor had she heard her later conversation with Mr Rearden.
- At the Hearing, Bernard Rearden said that he recalled Mrs Battles raising a matter with him on one occasion but said that he could not recall the exact details of their
- On Saturday 17 May 2003, Tom and Veronica Battles decided to meet another couple in the Killarney Heights Hotel.
- On approaching the door, they say that they were met by the General Manager, Mr
Kieran O'Driscoll who said to them "Sorry Lads, not tonight". He gave them no
explanation for his decision.
- The couple then called the Gardai who told them that it was a civil matter and advised them to see their solicitor. Tom and Veronica Battles say that the Gardai spoke to Mr O'Driscoll while Mr O'Driscoll says that they did not speak to him and did not even get out of their police car.
- At the Hearing, Mr O'Driscoll gave evidence that Mr and Mrs Battles had been regular visitors to the hotel over the years. He said that he knew they came from a Traveller background and said that he had personally served them himself a number of times. The Battles accepted that Mr O'Driscoll had served them previously.
- Mr O'Driscoll also said that on a few occasions, he had had trouble persuading the
Battles to leave the premises after closing time. However, they had never been barred for this nor had they been guilty of any misconduct on those occasions.
- In the weeks preceding 17 May 2003, Mr O'Driscoll said that two incidents had occurred in the hotel involving Travellers. On one occasion, a Traveller broke the lock on a bedroom door and was found trying to make phonecalls from the hotel phone. He was removed from the hotel but no prosecution was pursued. The damage to the door had to be repaired and the lock replaced.
- On another occasion, four local Travellers "gatecrashed" a non-Traveller wedding. They were removed after a few minutes and no further action was taken. Mr O'Driscoll said that he was not aware of any connection between the Battles and the people involved in the two incidents.
- On 17 May 2003, the hotel was very busy as it was a Saturday night. The hotel was also catering for a large wedding that day and some coach loads of tourists.
- When Mr O'Driscoll saw the Battles approaching the door, he said that he decided that he was not going to admit them. He said that his job was to keep an orderly house and that his decision was influenced by the fact that other Travellers had caused trouble in the recent past, that there was already between 8 and 12 Travellers on the premises that night and that he had had trouble getting the Battles to leave the premises before.
- Mr O'Driscoll accepts that neither complainant had drink taken that night
6 Matters for Consideration
6.1 Section 3(1) of the Equal Status Act 2000 states that discrimination shall be taken to
occur where, on any of the grounds specified in the Act, a person is treated less favourably
than another person is, has been or would be treated. Section 3(2)(i) of the Act specifies the Traveller community ground as one of the grounds covered by the Act. Section 3(1)(b) refers to discrimination by association. Under Section 5(1) of the Act it is unlawful to discriminate against an individual in the provision of a service which is generally available to the public. In this particular instance, Veronica Battles claims that she was discriminated against on the grounds of her membership of the Traveller community contrary to Sections 3(1), 3(1)(b), 3(2)(i) and 5(1) of the Equal Status Act, 2000 in being refused service in the Killarney Heights Hotel on 15 and 17 May 2003. Tom Battles claims that he was discriminated against on 17 May 2003 because of his association with a member of the Traveller community contrary to Sections 3(1)(b) and 5(1) of the Equal Status Act, 2000
6.2 In cases such as this, the burden of proof lies with the complainant who, in order to demonstrate that a prima facie case of discrimination exists, must establish facts from which it can be presumed that prohibited conduct has occurred. On establishment of these facts, the burden of proof then shifts to the respondent who, in order to successfully defend his case, must show that his actions were driven by factors which were non-discriminatory.
7 Conclusions of the Equality Officer
7.1 Prima facie case
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) Existence of a discriminatory ground (e.g. the Traveller community ground)
(b) Establishment of facts to show that specific treatment occurred
(c) Evidence that the treatment received by the complainant was less favourable than the treatment someone, not covered by that ground, would have received in similar
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.
7.2 With regard to (a) above, Veronica Battles has satisfied me that she is a member of the Traveller community and Tom Battles, her husband, has satisfied me that he is associated with a member of the Traveller community. In relation to (b), the evidence before me (from Mrs Battles, Mrs Harrington and Mr Rearden) supports Ms Battles' claim that she was in the Killarney Heights Hotel on 15 May 2003 while, in relation to 17 May 2003, the respondents acknowledge that the complainants were refused admission on that date. To determine whether a prima facie case exists, I must, therefore, consider whether the treatment afforded the complainants on 15 and 17 May 2003 was less favourable than the treatment a non-Traveller would have received, in similar circumstances.
7.3 As I have stated earlier, in cases such as this, the burden of proof lies with the complainant who, in order to demonstrate that a prima facie case of discrimination exists, must establish facts from which it can be presumed that prohibited conduct has occurred. n considering the alleged incident on 15 May 2003, I find, in the absence of any independent witnesses, that there is insufficient evidence before me to support Mrs Battle's claim that the barwoman refused her service because of her membership of the Traveller community. For this reason, I consider that sufficient facts have not been established from which it could be inferred, on the balance of probabilities, that discrimination occurred that night. Accordingly, I find that Mrs Battles has not established a prima facie case in relation to the alleged incident on 15 May 2003.
7.4 With regard to Saturday 17 May 2003, there is no dispute over the fact that Mr and Mrs Battles were refused admission to the Hotel by Mr O'Driscoll. As this fact has been established, I consider that the burden of proof has shifted to the respondents who, in order to successfully defend their case, must show that their actions were driven by factors which were non-discriminatory. In order to decide whether the refusal constituted discriminatory treatment, I must consider the reasons given by Mr O'Driscoll for refusing admission to Mr and Mrs Battles on 17 May 2003.
7.5 Mr O'Driscoll has said that he was obliged to run an orderly house and that his decision to refuse admission to the Battles was influenced by the following:
(1) that other Travellers had caused trouble in the recent past,
(2) that there were between 8 and 12 Travellers already on the premises that night, and
(3) that he had had trouble getting the Battles to leave the premises previously.
In considering point (1), I note that Mr O'Driscoll has acknowledged that the Battles had no involvement in the two previous incidents involving Travellers but that these incidents influenced his decision to refuse them admission. A similar situation arose previously in the case of Delaney and others V The Harp Bar (DEC-S2002-053/56) where a publican refused service to a number of Travellers on account of the fact that other Travellers had caused trouble on his premises previously. In that case, the Equality Officer found that he could not accept that the publican was acting "in good faith" in refusing service to some Travellers on account of the actions of others and found that the publican's actions constituted discrimination contrary to the provisions of the Equal Status Act 2000.
In considering point (2), I note that there are also similarities between this point and a 2001
decision, McDonagh v The Castle Inn (DEC-S2001-022) where the publican admitted that
he operated a "quota system" where no more than five Travellers were admitted to his pub at any one time. In that case, the Equality Officer found that it was discriminatory to operate a "quota system" where Travellers were concerned and found against the publican. In the case before me, Mr O'Driscoll has said that a number of Travellers were already on the premises on 17 May 2003 and he has acknowledged that his refusal was influenced by this fact. To put points (1) and (2) above into perspective, I think that it is appropriate to draw a comparison at this stage and ask the question as to whether it is conceivable that a respondent would have refused to admit two innocent non-Travellers on the basis that there were already eight non-Travellers on the premises, or on the basis that an unconnected group of non-Travellers had caused trouble the previous week? I consider that it is highly unlikely that this would have happened. In considering point (3), I find that I cannot accept that this was a major factor in the refusal as, while Mr O'Driscoll may have had problems in the past in getting the Battles to drink up, he has said himself that they never engaged in misconduct nor had they ever been barred for not leaving on time.
7.6 Having deliberated on the above points and on the totality of the evidence before me, I find, on the balance of probabilities, that the decision to refuse admission to Tom and Veronica Battles on 17 May 2003 was primarily influenced by the complainants' Traveller background and only marginally influenced by other factors. I, therefore, find that the complainants have established a prima facie case of discrimination on the Traveller community ground and that the respondents have failed to rebut the allegation. Accordingly, I find that the complainants were discriminated against on 17 May 2003 contrary to the provisions of the Equal Status Act 2000.
8.1 I find that Veronica Battles has not established a prima facie case of discrimination on
the Traveller community ground in terms of sections 3(1), and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status
Act 2000 in relation to the events of 15 May 2003. In relation to 17 May 2003, I find that Veronica Battles has established a prima facie case of discrimination on the Traveller community ground in terms of sections 3(1), and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Act 2000 and that Tom Battles has established a prima facie case in terms of Section 3(1)(b) of the Act. I also find that the respondents have failed to rebut the allegation
8.2 In considering the level of redress to award, I am cognisant of the fact that the complainants were served previously on a regular basis in the Killarney Heights Hotel prior to the incident under consideration and I am satisfied, from the evidence before me, that other members of the Traveller community continue to be served in the hotel. I have also taken into account that the respondents have been open and frank in stating their reasons for the refusal on 17 May 2003. For the above reasons, I do not consider that a heavy penalty is warranted. Accordingly, I order that each complainant be paid redress of €650 for the hurt, humiliation and loss of amenity suffered on 17 May 2003. I also order that the respondents ensure that all staff are made fully aware of their obligations under the Equal Status Act 2000 to ensure that the same terms and conditions are applied to both Travellers and non-Travellers with regard to admission and service in the hotel.
11 October 2004