The Newbury Hotel (Gopack Ltd), Mullingar
(represented by Nooney & Dowdall Solicitors)
Equal Status Acts 2000-2004 - Direct discrimination, section 3(1)(a) - Traveller community ground, section 3(2)(i) Discrimination by Association, section 3(1)(b) - Supply of goods and services, section 5(1) - Refusal of service in a hotel.
Delegation under the Equal Status Acts
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 Acts and under the Equal Status Acts, the Director has delegated the complaint 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 Acts, 2000-2004.
The complainant states that she arranged to bring a group of her female employees out for a night out on Friday 25 October 2002. However, when she arrived at the Newbury Hotel, she was told by the barman that she was not been served. She maintains that this occurred because some of her employees were members of the Traveller community and that she was discriminated against because of her association with them.
The respondents rejected that they operated a discriminatory policy against Travellers. They maintain that some of the group were known to have an association with a group of Travellers who had caused serious trouble in another local hotel some months previously.
Evidence of Parties
At the Hearing, the respondents gave evidence that the barman on the night recognised a few of the complainant's group as belonging to Traveller families who had caused serious disruption at another hotel some months previously. They said that many of the Travellers involved had subsequently appeared in court as a result of the incident.
At the Hearing, Mr Garvan McGinley, a Director of Gopack Ltd, explained that the barman in question was unavailable to attend the Hearing as he was on holiday.
Mr McGinley stated that, because of his concern that some male members of the Traveller families might join the female members later, the barman decided to refuse them service soon after they arrived.
The complainant, Ms Kiernan, explained that she arranged the night-out for her employees following the closure of her business. Eight female employees were due to meet her in the Newbury Hotel before going to a Chinese restaurant across the road at 9 pm.
Four of the female employees were members of the Traveller community.
The complainant, who is a non-Traveller, stated that she herself used to visit the Newbury Hotel on a regular basis with her husband prior to October 2002.
Ms Kiernan said that she arrived shortly after the four Traveller women on 25 October 2002. When she arrived another of her staff , Caroline McDermott, approached her and told her that they were not being served.
Ms Kiernan the approached one of the regular barmen whom she believes would have known her from previous visits. She tried to tell him discretely that they were only having one drink before going to the restaurant across the road. She said, however, that he was not willing to listen to her and that, in front of the other customers, he waved his arms at her declaring, without explanation, that he was not serving her. He then walked up the floor away from her.
Ms Kiernan said that he made her feel very small on the night. She said that she and her employees then left the premises as fast as they could and went to another pub for their drink.
Mr McGinley explained that the barman on the night had recognised the Traveller ladies as having been associated with the group who had caused the trouble in the other hotel and this was the reason for the refusal. Mr McGinley said that it was the hotel's policy not to serve anyone known to have been involved in serious trouble elsewhere.
At the Hearing, one of the employees, Mrs. Margaret Joyce, acknowledged that she had been present in the other hotel on the night of the trouble and that some of her relations had appeared in court subsequently as a result of the incident. She said that she herself had not been personally involved or charged.
Conclusions of the Equality Officer
Of importance in this case is the fact that the barman that refused service to Ms Kiernan was not available at the Hearing to give evidence at first hand as to why he decided to refuse service to all those in Ms Kiernan's group. All I have is the hearsay evidence of Mr McGinley who states that the barmen knew that some of the ladies were closely associated with the Traveller families involved in a serious disturbance in another hotel a short time previously. While Mrs. Joyce did admit at the Hearing that she had been present in the other hotel on the night in question (but was not involved in any trouble), I have no way of knowing in the absence of the barman whether this fact was known to him on the night of the refusal.
The respondents state that the refusal occurred because of a fear that there might be a repetition of the previous trouble in the other hotel and I have no difficulty in accepting this argument in a situation where the barman recognised the customers as those who caused trouble previously. Accordingly, if the barman did recognise one or more of the women as having been involved in the previous trouble, I consider that he would have had sufficient justification to refuse service to those he recognised from the Traveller families involved. This, however, does not, in my opinion, sufficiently explain why the barman chose to refuse service to all of the group that was present and it is this decision of his with which I have a difficulty. Having met some of the ladies involved at the Hearing on 28 September 2006, I consider that it must of been obvious to the barman on the night that Mrs. Kiernan and several others of the employees were not Travellers and, therefore, that it was most unlikely that they had been involved in the disturbance that occurred in the other hotel between two Traveller families.
It would appear, however, that the barman did not take this fact into account and chose to refuse the whole group on the basis of their association with the four Traveller ladies.
With regard to the complainant herself, the evidence before me suggests that the barman would have known Ms Kiernan as a regular patron and a non-Traveller and that she herself did not pose a threat to the hotel. In such circumstances, I would have expected that any reasonable person, out of courtesy, would have taken the time to explain to Ms Kiernan the reason for the decision to refuse the Traveller ladies. It would appear, however, that the barman on the night did not do so but instead simply dismissed Mrs. Kiernan out-of-hand in full view of other customers.
On considering the events of the evening as described to me, the only reason I can see for the barman's refusal to discuss the matter discretely with Ms Kiernan and give her time to explain her position is that he associated her with the group of Traveller ladies with whom he had a difficulty.
Accordingly, the question that must be asked is whether the barman would have treated Mrs. Kiernan the same way if she had been with a group of non-Travellers and the barman only had a problem with some of the group. In such a situation, I consider, on the balance of probability, that the barman would have acted more diplomatically and, instead of dismissing the approach from a respectable and regular patron, would have been more amenable to discussing his concerns with her. This did not happen on 25 October 2002 and I consider that the complainant received this less favourable treatment because of her association with members of the Traveller community.
For the above reason, I consider that it was the four ladies' Traveller identify that guided the barman's treatment of Mrs. Kiernan and, having considered all the circumstances of the case, I have formed the opinion that his actions constituted discrimination by association, contrary to the provisions of the Equal Status Acts 2000 - 2004.
I find that a prima facie case of discrimination by association has been established by the complainant on the Traveller community ground in terms of sections 3(1)(b) of the Equal Status Acts 2000-2004 and I award the complainant the sum of €500 for the hurt and humiliation experienced on the night in question.
17 November 2006