Mr Mahieddine Baziz
The Health Service Executive - Community Welfare Services
Equal Status Acts 2000 - 2004 - Direct discrimination, section 3(1)(a) - Race ground, section 3(2)(h) -Supply of goods and services, section 5(1) - Application for Rent Supplement
Delegation under the Equal Status Acts, 2000 - 2004
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 Act 2000, 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 Mr Mahieddine Baziz that he was discriminated against by The Health Service Executive in the manner in which his application for Rent Supplement was assessed. Mr Baziz, who is originally from Algeria but now holds an Irish passport, claimed that he was less favourably treated on the grounds of race.
Evidence of Parties
Note Although some confusion exists as to the precise dates on which the alleged incidents occurred, I am of the opinion that both sides have displayed adequate recollection of the alleged incidents to enable me to proceed with my deliberations without having to make a definite finding as to the exact dates involved.
Mr Baziz, who is originally from Algeria, came to Ireland in 1997 and worked occasionally as a translator since then. He married an Irish national in 1998 and subsequently obtained Irish citizenship.
In 2003, his wife and himself moved to a new apartment in Dublin and they claimed a Rent Supplement from the HSE - Community Welfare Services in Dublin 7. Such applications are assessed by a Community Welfare Officer who would normally pay a visit to the applicant as part of his/her duties.
The information before me suggests that the complainant's wife discussed the application initially with a Community Welfare Officer, Ms Cathy Carty in the HSE Offices in early April 2003 at which point a query arose about Mr Baziz's nationality and Ms Carty crossed out "Irish" and inserted "Algerian" on the application form.
At the Hearing on 27 March 2007, the HSE acknowledged that Ms Carty had done so and accepted that it was inappropriate for her to have amended the application form as it was a legal document. The HSE also stated that a person's nationality would not normally have a bearing on their eligibility for a Rent Supplement Allowance as the information was only used for statistical purposes. Ms Carty explained that she had changed the entry on the form as it was normal practice to enter an applicant's original nationality on to their computer system.
Both parties agree that Ms Carty called to the apartment before lunch on a day when only Mr Baziz was present. Mr Baziz said that he offered her a seat when she arrived but she declined. He said that she then asked for his passport which he showed her. At that point, Mr Baziz said that Ms Carty started waving and shaking the passport and asking "Who gave you that?" He told her "the Department of Justice". He said that she then asked how he had acquired citizenship and he explained that it was through marriage. He then produced his marriage cert for Ms Carty as evidence.
Ms Carty gave evidence that she had only sought "ID" from Mr Baziz when she called as it was a standard requirement before approving a Rent Allowance supplement. She said that a passport was acceptable as ID in such circumstances and that it was not normal practice to raise further questions after being shown a passport. Ms Carty accepted, however, that she may have asked him how he had obtained citizenship but said that she did not specifically ask to see his marriage certificate although she says she recalls that Mr Baziz did show her his marriage certificate on the day.
Ms Carty said that she did not think that Mr Baziz was upset on the day of her visit although she did feel that he was somewhat "defensive" in dealing with her. Ms Carty insisted that Mr Baziz was not less favourably treated than other applicants and pointed to the fact that she approved his application for a Rent Supplement later that same day.
In my opinion, there are two incidents here that require consideration in order to decide whether there was any discriminatory element to Ms Carty's actions. The first is where Ms Carty amended the nationality on Mr Baziz's application form and the second is where he was asked for ID in his apartment.
In the first instance, while Ms Carty may have been somewhat presumptuous in altering the nationality on the form, I am prepared to accept, on the balance of probability, that she did so for statistical purposes rather than for a racially motivated reason.
I find it more difficult to accept, however, that there was no racial motivation involved in Ms Carty's dealings with Mr Baziz in his apartment. Ms Carty herself has said that it was normal practice to accept a passport as ID and not to raise further questions. However, in this instance, Ms Carty accepts that she may have asked Mr Baziz how he obtained Irish citizenship and the evidence before me suggests that she did in fact do so as she herself admits that Mr Baziz did show her his marriage certificate on the day.
Having considered the above, I have formed the opinion, on the balance of probability, that Ms Carty did ask Mr Baziz about his citizenship when she visited his apartment. I also consider that, in doing so, Ms Carty did treat Mr Baziz less favourably because of his race on the day in question and that her actions constituted discrimination on the race ground contrary to the provisions of the Equal Status Acts 2000 - 2004.
I find that a prima facie case has been established on the race ground in terms of sections 3(1) and 3(2)(h) of the Equal Status Acts 2000 - 2004 and that the respondents have failed to rebut the allegation.
In considering the level of redress to award in this instance, I am mindful of the fact that Ms Carty had a very heavy workload at the time which may have distracted her from her obligations under equality legislation. I am also cognizant of the fact that there was no delay in approving Mr Baziz's application and that payment was made promptly.
For the above reasons, I do not consider that a heavy penalty is warranted and order that the Health Service Executive pay the complainant the sum of €200 for the hurt and humiliation experienced.
14 May 2007