Danny and Mary O'Brien
(represented by Michael B. O'Donnell, Solicitor )
Davey Mann's Hotel, Rathkeale
Equal Status Acts 2000 - 2004 - Direct discrimination, section 3(1)(a) - Membership of the Traveller community, section 3(2)(i) - Supply of goods and services, section 5(1) - Refusal of service in a restaurant - Non attendance at hearing by respondent
Delegation under the Equal Status Acts
This complaint was referred to the Director of Equality Investigations 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 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.
This dispute concerns a complaint by Danny and Mary O'Brien that they were refused service in a hotel restaurant at lunchtime on 27 January 2002. The complainants believe that the refusal was solely because they were recognised as members of the Traveller community.
Both parties were notified by registered post on 18 December 2006 that the Hearing of the complaint would be held at 10 am on Wednesday 21 February 2007 in the Kilmurry Lodge Hotel, Limerick. Prior to the Hearing, confirmation was obtained from An Post's website that the registered letters had been delivered to the parties. An Post's records show that the respondents' notification was delivered on 21 December 2006.
Hearing on 21 February 2007
At 10 am on 21 February 2007, the complainants arrived for the hearing as arranged. As there was no sign of the respondents, the commencement of the hearing was delayed for 30 minutes.
When the respondent had not appeared by 10.30 am, I convened the hearing explaining that, irrespective of whether the respondent was present or not, the onus was still on the complainants to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. I then proceeded to take the evidence of the complainants. At 11.05 am, I closed the hearing stating that I would issue my decision shortly in the matter.
The complainants gave evidence that they had previously attended Traveller functions in the hotel but that these were held in a function room out the back. They had not visited the hotel's restaurant previously.
They said that it was their normal custom to go out for Sunday lunch with their children. Usually they would go to a venue in Newcastle West or Adare.
On 27 January 2002 they decided to visit Davey Mann's Hotel in Rathkeale instead.
When they arrived at 12.45 a female waitress told them that she could not serve them and told them that the restaurant was fully booked.
As there was no one sitting at any of the restaurant's tables at that point, Danny O'Brien asked to see Davey Mann himself. The woman replied that she was the boss but refused to give her name.
At that point, Danny O'Brien went to the local Garda station while his wife and children stayed in the pub. He reported the incident to Garda Con Horan in the Station who told him to return to the Hotel and ask for the lady's name. When he returned, the lady still refused to give him her name and told him to "get out of my way".
When he went back again to the station, the Garda told him that he had since phoned the woman in the hotel and she had agreed to serve his family.
He returned to the hotel where the woman informed him that she would serve him as "the Gardai have OK'd it".
As the woman had been very rude to him and had only agreed to serve him following the Garda's intervention, he decided that he would not stay in the hotel any longer. He and his family then went elsewhere for their lunch.
In the hour covering the incident, only a handful of people had visited the hotel for a meal and the vast majority of tables had remained empty.
Mr O'Brien said that he did not take the complaint for financial reasons and, if any award was made, would give it to charity.
The complainants said that there was no doubt in their minds that the woman recognised them as Travellers and that this was the sole reason they were refused service
In complaints such as this, the onus is on the complainants to establish a prima facie case by appearing at the hearing to give evidence. At the hearing on 21 February 2007, I took the evidence of the two complainants. Overall, I found them to be very credible witnesses and I find that I have no reason to question the account they gave of the events of 27 January 2002. I am, therefore, satisfied that the complainants have established a prima facie case of discrimination with regard to the events of 27 January 2002.
Normally in such circumstances, where a prima facie case has been established, the respondent is provided with an opportunity to rebut the allegation of discrimination by showing that there was a genuine non-discriminatory reason for the events that occurred. On this occasion, however, the respondent did not avail of the opportunity to do so by attending the hearing.
Accordingly, I find that a prima facie case of discrimination has been established by the complainants on the Traveller community ground in terms of sections 3(1) and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Acts 2000-2004 and that the respondent has failed to rebut the allegation.
Despite the fact that the complainants state that they did not take the complaint for monetary reasons, I consider that the discrimination suffered was sufficient enough to merit monetary compensation. Accordingly, I order that the respondent pay each of the complainants the sum of €500 for the hurt and humiliation experienced on 27 January 2002.
30 March 2006