Michael Stokes (Represented by Patrick Duffy Solicitor) V Poitin Still Public House (Margaret Langan)
Complaint under the Equal Status Act 2000
Equal Status Act, 2000 - Direct Discrimination, Section 3(1)(a) - Membership of the Traveller Community, Section 3(2)(i) - Disposal of goods and supply of services, Section 5(1) - Refusal of service in a pub
DEC - S2005-168
Mr. Stokes 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, the Director then delegated the case to me, Bernadette Treanor, 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.
Summary of the Complainant's case
Mr. Stokes entered the respondent's premises after attending Mass on 17/3/2002. He was alone and had never been in the pub before. He ordered a pint from the barmaid. As she was about to give the pint to him Ms. Langan took the pint and told the complainant that she would not serve him. At this point the complainant left. As he was unknown to the respondent and as he had not taken any alcohol before entering the pub, the complainant feels that the refusal was based on his membership of the Traveller community.
Summary of the Respondent's Case
The respondent, Ms. Langan, knew the complainant to see before the incident but did not know his name. She agreed that he entered her premises on 17/3/2002 and although she was not sure of the time she accepted the time given in evidence by the complainant. She also agreed that he gave his order to the barmaid. However, Ms. Langan stated that her assessment of the complainant was that he seemed drunk. She stated that his speech was slurred. She removed the pint and told the complainant that she would not serve him. He left the pub.
Conclusions of the Equality Officer
I am satisfied that the complainant is a member of the Traveller community. The respondent also agreed. The parties agree that Ms. Langan refused Mr. Stokes service on 17/3/2002. What is in dispute is whether or not the complainant, Mr. Stokes, had been drinking before entering the respondent premises. Ms. Langan is required by the Liquor Licensing Acts to refuse any person who is drunk regardless of their background. Therefore had Mr. Stokes been under the influence of alcohol Ms. Langan would have been required to refuse him further alcohol. Ms. Langan has many years experience in the licensed trade and stated she was content that she would recognise the signs of alcohol consumption on a person.
When asked what it was about the complainant that made her think he had been drinking she stated that his speech was slurred. During the hearing it was indicated that Mr. Stokes has hearing difficulties. In addition, despite my experience in these matters, I found his speech difficult to understand.
On the basis of the evidence presented to me I find that the complainant had not been drinking before he entered the pub. I also find that the respondent decided that he had been drinking based on the manner of his speech. As he was unknown to her she could not know that this was his normal speech pattern. It would appear therefore that both parties to this case believe that they had right on their side.
However, the Equal Status Act, 2000 states in Section 15 2
(2) Action taken in good faith by or on behalf of the holder of a
licence or other authorisation which permits the sale of intoxicating
liquor, for the sole purpose of ensuring compliance with the provisions
of the Licensing Acts, 1833 to 1999, shall not constitute discrimination.
Therefore, although I have found that the complainant was not drinking before he entered the pub and since no evidence was presented to the contrary, I find that the respondent decided in good faith that the complainant had been drinking and refused service for the sole purpose of ensuring compliance with the Licensing Acts.
The complainant's representative drew my attention to the time at which the incident took place, around midday. In deciding the complainant was drunk, based solely on his speech and taking account of the time of the day, it could be argued that the respondent was over-zealous; that while considering there was an issue surrounding the complainant's speech, she also took account of his background and refused him on that combined basis. It was, however, St. Patrick's Day on which traditionally a lot of alcohol is consumed in Ireland and since there is no evidence to suggest that the respondent took account of the complainant's background I am satisfied that the decision was taken in good faith.
I find that the complainant was not discriminated against on the grounds of his membership of the Traveller community when he was refused service on 17/3/2002. However, it should be noted that had the case been taken on the disability ground Section 4 of the Equal Status Act, 2000 would necessarily have been considered. Other indicators of intoxication should be considered in addition to the manner of speech, wherever possible, before refusals are made.
10 November 2005