John and Michael Connors
(Represented by Shaun Elder Solicitor)
The Royal George Hotel
(Represented by Murray Johnson BL instructed by Holmes, O'Malley, Sexton Solicitors)
Equal Status Acts 200-2004- Direct discrimination, Section 3(1)(a)- Traveller Community Ground, Section 3(2)(i)- Disposal of Goods and Services, Section 5(1)- Refusal of service
Delegation under the Equal Status Act 2000
This complaint was 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 the complaint to me Mary O'Callaghan, 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 -2004. The hearing of the case took place in Limerick on Thursday 15th June, 2006.
1.1 The complainants allege that they were subjected to discriminatory treatment when they went to the Royal George Hotel in Limerick on 23rd August 2002 and were refused service. They maintain that that this treatment is in breach of the Equal Status Act 2000 in terms of Section 3 (2) (i) and contrary to Section 5 (1) of the Act, i.e. that they were refused access to goods and services because of their membership of the Traveller community.
2. Summary of the Complainant's case
2.1 The complainants, who are from Limerick and said that they are both members of the Traveller community, said that they went to the main bar of the Royal George Hotel on the evening of 23rd August 2002 in order to watch a football match on television and have a few drinks. It was said they were neatly dressed in casual wear. They had not had any drink before going to the Royal George Hotel and had come into Limerick city by taxi from where they lived on the outskirts.
2.2 When they entered, John Connors ordered their first drinks which were served to them and they sat down to enjoy the match. A while later Michael Connors approached the counter, to order a second round of drinks while John Connors had gone to the toilets , but he was told that they would not be served any more drink that night. The bar man told him that the manager had instructed him not to serve them any more drink. Mr. Connors asked for the manager and he said that the bar man went and spoke with someone else while he returned to his seat to await the manager. He said that a short time later another member of staff approached them asking if there was a problem and when he sought to enquire why he was not being served he was again told that the manager had instructed that no more drink would be served to them that night. The complainants said they were told at this point that the manager was no longer on the premises. They did not think that they spoke to the manager of the premises at any time during their stay there that night. They left the premises having sought the name of the manager which was given to them.
2.3 Both complainants said that other customers continued to be served while they had been refused and they remarked that a female customer expressed shock at the treatment they received. When asked why they believed they were refused they indicated that it was because they were Travellers. They both said they found the experience to be embarrassing. In response to a suggestion that they had been loud and possibly abusive, Michael Connors responded that this was not so, as they were caught up in watching the football match while they were on the premises.
2.4 Both complainants said that they had been in the Royal George Hotel previously and never had problems being served there before this incident. They had not returned to the Royal George Hotel since then and the Hotel is no longer trading.
3. Summary of the Respondents case
3.1 Mr. Malcolm Stuart said that he was a Director of the respondent hotel at the time of this incident. He said that he was not present at the time of the incident as he had appointed a manager to look after this aspect of his business. Mr Stuart said the property development business which he was involved in had purchased much of the property on the street in Limerick where the Royal George Hotel was located. This included the hotel, the business of which was being run on a holding basis pending permission being granted for the redevelopment of the site. He said that one of the primary concerns of the owners, while the hotel remained in business, was to minimise potential claims against the hotel. He had appointed his manager with this in mind and there was regular interaction between himself and the manager on this subject. There were particular concerns about patrons accessing the toilets and a number of incidents had occurred involving patrons of the hotel night club sliding down the railings on the stairs to the basement toilet.
3.2 Mr. Stuart added that he would not discriminate against Travellers and had a record of accommodating them both in his role as a property developer and businessman in the Wexford area and while he was principal of his local Church of Ireland national school in Co. Wicklow. He said that he believed that this entire incident arose from a misunderstanding and that the refusal of service to the complainants was not linked to their Traveller Status but that they were perceived by the manager to be inebriated and it was considered that Mr Michael Connors in particular was staggering as he walked through the reception area of the hotel on his way to the toilets that night. When questioned about the existence of an incident book in the hotel, Mr. Stuart said that while there was an incident book for the hotel it had disappeared when much of the hotel's documentation had been removed in a number of steel crates to a site he was developing near Dublin in Co Kildare. Mr Stuart explained that while the crates were in Kildare, the site had been broken into and one of the crates was burned and two others were stolen.
3.3 Mr Dermot Hartigan said he was the hotel manager at the time of the incident complained of. He said he was the person who had responded in writing to the complaint when it was notified to him shortly after the incident occurred. Mr Hartigan acknowledged that the written response he had given had been written from the perspective of him having been the person who dealt directly with the complainants on the night of this incident. He said that this was an inaccurate representation of what had occurred, as his involvement in the entire matter stemmed from a report made to him by a bar man that the complainants who had already been served drink, were behaving loudly and should not be served more drink. He did not speak with the complainants and only observed them in their movement from the bar to the toilets area. He had left the premises by the time the complainants were refused further service.
3.4 Mr. Hartigan said he undertook, on receiving this report from the bar man, to observe the complainants and he subsequently agreed that they should not be served any more drink that night as he believed that Michael Connors was unsteady on his feet as he passed him in reception heading towards the toilets. He said that there was no question of the complainants being barred but their perceived state gave rise to a decision that they had been served enough drink that particular night. He was not suggesting that the complainants had engaged in any wrongdoing on the premises. Their membership of the Traveller community had no bearing on this decision on his part. Mr Hartigan said that he recognised Mr. Michael Connors but that he was not familiar with John Connors. He said that he believed that Michael Connors had been in the Royal George Hotel a number of times previously and he also thought he may have known Mr. Connors through his patronage of another Limerick city pub.
3.5 It was put to Mr Hartigan that it was strange that the incident book and any closed circuit TV footage had not been retained despite the fact that the complainants had notified the hotel of their complaint within a month of the incident and it was normal practice not to record over the CCTV tapes for a month. Mr. Hartigan agreed with his employer Mr. Stuart who indicated that in this type of business one can get many complaints that do not materialise into anything further. He could not be certain that any note of the incident was recorded in the incident book but if it had been done it would have been done either by him or the head of security. He acknowledged that although he had not spoken to or met the complainants that night he respondent to their notification of complaint in a manner that clearly indicated that he was the person who had refused them that night. He said that the letter was incorrect in this regard and it was the bar staff who dealt with the complainants that night. He also believed that the complainants were given time to finish the drinks they had. Mr. Hartigan said that he did not know which of the complainants went to the toilet area first but his main recollection was of Michael Connors as he recognised him.
3.6 In relation to this incident he did not believe it was discrimination but rather a misunderstanding on the part of the complainants of the reason for their refusal and a disappointing lack of politeness from the staff
4. Conclusions of the Equality Officer
4.1 At the outset the burden of proof in relation to whether discrimination occurred rests with the complainant. I must first consider whether the complainants in this case, John and Michael Connors, have established prima facie cases of discrimination. In order to do so the complainants must satisfy three criteria. It must be established that they are covered by the relevant discriminatory ground i.e. in this case that they are members of the Traveller community. It must also be established that the actions complained of actually occurred and finally it must be shown that the treatment of the complainants was less favourable than the treatment that would be afforded to another person in similar circumstances who was not a member of the Traveller community. They must establish all of these facts if a prima facie case of discrimination is to be established. If there is a prima facie case of discrimination the burden of proof shifts to the respondent who must then rebut the case of the complainant if it is to fail.
(i) Establishment of Prima Facie Case
4.2 In relation to the first point to be established, it is not in dispute that the complainants are members of the Traveller Community. The second point that the refusal actually occurred is also uncontested, in that all parties agree that the John and Michael Connors were refused when they ordered their second drink in the respondent's premises on the 23rd August 2002. The third fact that has to be shown for a prima facie case to be established is that of less favourable treatment.
4.3 In this case the evidence has been that, on going to the Royal George Hotel, the complainants ordered and were served one drink each and they proceeded to watch a football match on the television in the main bar of the premises. The complainants evidence is that this was the first drink they had that night, having come into Limerick city by taxi from their homes on the outskirts of the city. They said that they were not intoxicated when they sought a second drink. It is agreed between the parties that the complainants were not causing any trouble or that anything unusual occurred. There has been no evidence presented that other customers were refused that night or that similar reports in relation to other customers were given to the manager. The evidence of the complainants has been that the other customers, none of whom were recognised as Travellers, on the premises were not refused that night.
4.4 I conclude that this evidence satisfies the third element of the test for a prima facie case of discrimination and therefore, that both complainants, John and Michael Connors have established prima facie cases of discrimination on the Traveller community ground.
4.5 The evidence of the manager of the hotel is that his actions and decision not to serve the complainants were based on a report by a member of the bar staff that the complainants were loud, having already been served drink, and from his own subsequent observations of the complainants being unsteady on their feet as they walked the 20 feet between the bar and the reception area, on their way to the hotel toilets. The matter of their membership of the Traveller community was not a factor in any decision he took that night. Both Mr. Stuart and Mr. Hartigan the manager indicated that this entire complaint has arisen from a misunderstanding on the part of the complainants for their refusal and that the refusal of further service that night was purely because Mr. Hartigan decided that to serve the complainants more drink could give rise to a problem.
4.6 I note that Mr. Hartigan did not remain on the premises to see that the complainants left in an orderly fashion despite his concerns but left it to the bar staff to deal with the complainants. He cannot remember if the incident was recorded in the incident book which has since gone missing and no CCTV footage of events that evening remains.
5. Decision and Redress
5.1 I must reach my decision in this case by determining whether on the balance of probabilities the refusal of the complainants on the evening of 23rd August was discriminatory on the grounds of their membership of the Traveller community. In considering all of the evidence and having found that the complainants have established prima facie cases of discrimination, I have considered the above rebuttal evidence of the respondent. I conclude that it is not sufficient to rebut the prima facie cases of the complainants and accordingly I find that on the balance of probabilities the refusal of service to John and Michael Connors by the Royal George Hotel was discriminatory. I consider the appropriate redress for the effects of this incident to be €500 (five hundred euro) for each of the complainants and I order the respondent to pay the said sum of €500 (five hundred euro) each to John Connors and Michael Connors as redress.
Mary O' Callaghan
6th July 2006