Equality Officer Decision
Mr. Martin Ward & Mrs. Mary Ward
(represented by Ms. Heather Rosen)
Clare County Council
(represented by Michael Houlihan & Partners, Solicitors)
Equal Status Acts, 2000 -2004 - Discrimination, section 3(1) - Traveller
community, Section 3(2)(i) - providing accommodation and housing services Section 6(1)(c) - harassment, section 11 - complainants non-attendance at hearing, adjournment requests - failure to establish a prima facie case.
Delegation under Equal Status Acts, 2000-2004
The complainants referred a number of claims to the Director of the Equality Tribunal under the Equal Status Acts, 2000 -2004. In accordance with her powers under section 75 of the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and under the Equal Status Acts, the Director delegated the cases to me, Marian Duffy, 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 was arranged in Ennis on 15th January 2007.
1.1 The dispute concerns claims by the above named complainants that they were discriminated against by named officials of Clare County Council and the Council itself on the Traveller Community ground. The complainants allege that the respondent discriminated against them in terms of Sections 3(1)(a), and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Act, 2000 contrary to Section 6(1)(c) of that Act. They also allege that they were harassed contrary to section 11 of the Act.
2. Summary of Events
2.1 This case is one of a number of complaints referred to the Equality Tribunal on behalf of a large number of complainants against the same respondent alleging discrimination in relation to housing and related matters. It was decided to organise the cases by family groups so that each complainant family would have a separate hearing before the Equality Officer. A number of issues concerning all the cases arose and were dealt with at a procedural hearing on 26th May 2006. (For the background information see Jim Mongans & others v Clare County Council, DEC-S2007-012)
2.2 This case was listed for a callover on 15th January 2007. The complainants' representative was notified orally on 20th October 2006 that I was arranging a callover of all the cases referred against the respondents on 4th December 2006, including the cases of the complainants herein. A written confirmation of the date issued to the representative on 3rd November 2006. The representative applied for an adjournment of the matters on the grounds that she was out of the country on holidays and would be unable to notify the complainants of the callover. The adjournment was granted and the parties were notified that the callover would take place on 15th January 2007.
2.3 A notification issued to the representatives confirming the date and requesting that the complainants attend the callover on 15th January 2007 and requesting that they should be available for the hearing of their case from the 16th to the 19th of January 2007. A notification of the hearing was also sent to the complainants' address. The complainants and their representative were notified that if they did not attend that the Equality Officer may decide, in the absence of a valid explanation for non-attendance, that they had not established a prima facie case of discrimination. The complainants' representative made two further applications to the Tribunal on the 7th and 11th January 2007, for an adjournment of the cases listed including this case. As there were no exceptional circumstances warranting an adjournment this request was refused.
2.4 The complainants did not attend the callover nor did they make themselves available for the hearing of their case during the week commencing 15th January 2007. The complainants' representative stated that the complainants wished to attend the hearing with their adult children who had also lodged complaints against the respondent. However, they did not attend as their adult children, whose cases were also listed for the week commencing 15th January 2007, were in Donegal and Mayo and would not be attending the callover or the hearings.
2.5 It should be noted that during the course of other hearings of cases against Clare County Council listed for the week of 16th to 20th October 2006, the complainants' representative submitted a letter on behalf of all of the complainant groups, including the complainants in this case, requesting that I withdraw from hearing the cases. I informed her that I would not be acceding to the request. (For the background to this request see case of Michael Mongans & Ors v Clare County Council, DEC-S2006-084 and Patrick Mongans & Ors v Clare County Council, DEC-S2006-085).
3 Conclusions of the Equality Officer
3.1 I am satisfied that the complainants were on notice that the Tribunal hearing in their case was scheduled for callover and hearing during the week commencing Monday 15th January 2007. No valid reason was given for their non-attendance. I am also satisfied that the complainants were on notice that all matters referred to in their complaint forms lodged with the Equality Tribunal involving the named respondents would have been dealt with at this hearing if they had attended. Likewise I am satisfied that both the complainants and their representative were on notice both orally and in writing of the consequences of their failure to attend without valid and exceptional reason. It should be noted the complainants' adult children did not attend the hearing and no adjournment had been granted to them. As there was no appearance by the complainants and as they have not provided a valid or exceptional reason for their non-attendance, I find that they have failed to establish a prima facie case of discriminatory treatment.
4.1 On the basis of the foregoing, I find that the complainants have not established a prima facie case of discrimination and accordingly their complaints cannot succeed. I, therefore, dismiss the cases of Martin & Mary Ward (ES/2004/262-263 and ES/2004/477-478) referred to the Equality Tribunal against Clare County Council.
23rd February 2007