Complaint under the Equal Status Act 2000
DEC – S2008 – 040
Mary Sweeney, Ellen Sweeney, Ellen Conroy, Kathleen Cleary, Bridget Ward, Eileen Tighe, Kate Conroy, Margaret Sweeney, Breda Sweeney, Mary Teresa Sweeney, Mary Maughan, and Thomas Maughan
(Represented by Egan, Daughter & Co. Solicitors)
Digger Jay’s Pub
Mary Sweeney, Ellen Sweeney, Ellen Conroy, Kathleen Cleary Bridget Ward, Eileen Tighe, Kate Conroy, Margaret Sweeney, Breda Sweeney, Mary Teresa Sweeney, Mary Maughan, and Thomas Maughan each referred a claim 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, the Director then delegated the case to me, Bernadette Treanor, 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.
This case was assigned to me on 8th June 2007. The case was scheduled for hearing on 6th September 2007 and the parties were informed by letter dated 9th August 2007. The respondent wrote on 14th August 2007 informing the Tribunal that he would be unavailable for the scheduled hearing because of prepaid holidays already scheduled. An adjournment was granted. There followed some correspondence between the Tribunal and the complainants’ representative clarifying whether or not all complainants were represented by him.
The parties were informed by letter dated 10th January that the hearing was rescheduled to take place on 7th February 2008 at 2:30pm. Before the hearing the complainants’ representative indicated that one of his witnesses was not available to attend due to work commitments. Rather than grant an adjournment on that basis I directed the witness to attend the hearing. The witness’s availability or otherwise did not, therefore, impact on the hearing’s taking place. On 7th February both parties attended. The respondent made a second application for an adjournment as his Solicitor had been involved in High Court proceedings taken by the Law Society during the days before the hearing. The complainants’ representative indicated that as a professional courtesy no objection would be raised to the granting of an adjournment in the circumstances. The respondent indicated that any time in April would be acceptable for the resetting of the hearing and this is noted on the Tribunal’s case file.
The hearing was again rescheduled to Tuesday 8th April 2008 at 10:30am. The parties were informed by letter dated 4th March 2008. On 28th March the respondent telephoned the Tribunal indicating that he would not be able to make the hearing as he had difficulties in getting witnesses to attend. In accordance with Tribunal procedures he was asked to submit a request for an adjournment to the Director. This third request for an adjournment was received at 16:41 on Thursday 3rd April. Having considered all of the circumstances known to her the Director refused the request for an adjournment and the respondent was informed of this on Friday 4th April. On Monday 7th April the respondent contacted the Tribunal indicating that he had further documents to submit and that he wanted to discuss the matter with someone. He was told that he could submit the documents and they would be considered. He was advised that the hearing was still scheduled to go ahead at that time and he indicated that it would have to do so without him. No reference was made to any legal advisor at that time.
On Tuesday 8th April at 10:30am, the complainants, with the exception of Kathleen Cleary, attended the hearing with their representative. The respondent did not attend. As I was satisfied that he was aware of the hearing and his obligation to attend I opened the hearing. The hearing was complete before 1pm. Apparently, at 2:30pm, Mr. Shaughnessy arrived at the hotel with his witnesses. A member of hotel staff contacted the Tribunal on his behalf, indicating that his party was there and that I had not yet arrived! Mr. O’Shaughnessy has indicated that he requested the hotel to take a note of their presence and this note apparently remains in the hands of the hotel.
Summary of the Complainant’s case
There are twelve complainants in this case. As already indicated, Ms Kathleen Cleary did not attend the hearing for personal reasons. She had been informed on 7th February that her attendance would be necessary. I find that she has failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination on the Traveller ground.
The complainants indicated, on request, that all complaints related to the same incident. On that basis I took evidence individually from a selected 25% and from the witnesses presented as follows.
Ms. Margaret Sweeney, Complainant
The group had just finished exams following tuition at St. Catherine’s Traveller centre. This is a senior Traveller training centre funded by Mayo VEC. The group met in Ballinrobe on 17th July 2007 and travelled by bus to Digger Jays pub in Aughagower outside Westport to see the singer performing that night. When they arrived Ms. Sweeney went to the main door. As she approached she heard the door lock. When she knocked on the door Mr. Shaughnessy answered and said that it was a private function. She indicated that it had been advertised in the local newspapers, on the radio and that there was a sign outside indicating the entrance fee. He insisted it was a private function. A non-Traveller couple arrived at the door and the lady had a ticket. Mr. Shaughnessy took €10 of them and allowed them to enter. Ms. Sweeney knocked a second time and Mr. Shaughnessy opened it and called her in. She asked him why they were being refused and again he indicated that it was a private function. She again indicated that it had been advertised. He asked her if a group of men were coming down later to join them. When she replied no and asked him why he just closed the door. She moved away and subsequently noticed Mr. Thomas Maughan call Mr. Shaughnessy over and talk to him. They waited until the teachers arrived who also spoke to Mr. Shaughnessy. Subsequently they all got back on the bus and went on to Claremorris for the rest of the evening.
Ms. Ellen Conroy, Complainant
Ms Conroy explained that the group were on a night out. When they arrived she got off the bus and approached the door in time to hear Mr. Shaughnessy speak to Margaret Sweeney the second time telling her that there was no way that the group was getting in. She got back on the bus and noticed Tom Maughan speaking to Mr. Shaughnessy outside the bus. They all eventually got back on the bus and went to Claremorris.
Ms. Thomas Maughan, Complainant
Mr. Maughan was the office administrator with St. Catherine’s. He remained on the bus to make arrangements with the driver as to the time they should be picked up. When he looked up he saw the door being closed. He saw Mr. Shaughnessy talk to one of the ladies. He called him over to the bus and asked why himself and the ladies from St. Catherine’s were not allowed in. Mr. Shaughnessy replied that it was a private function. When Mr. Maughan pointed out the €10 admission sign Mr. Shaughnessy replied “You’re not getting in”. Mr. Maughan then contacted the teachers Ms. Morrissey and Ms. Robertson. When the teachers arrived they spoke to Mr. Shaughnessy but Mr. Maughan could not hear what was said.
Ms. Mary Morrissey
Ms. Morrissey is the co-ordinator at St. Catherine’s Centre which is a senior Traveller training centre. It provides second chance training and is funded by Mayo VEC. Ms. Morrissey explained that they offer Junior Certificate subjects and cultural subjects and are hoping to offer a Leaving Certificate Applied course in the future. When the examinations were finished each year they normally organised a night out for the students.
In 2003 the ladies indicated that they would prefer a night out outside of Ballinrobe. On the afternoon of 17th July 2003 Ms. Morrissey contacted Digger Jays to enquire if tickets were necessary for that night and she was told that they were not required and could be purchased on arrival. The ladies travelled by bus and she and Ms. Robertson went by car. They were dropping off their luggage when they received word of the difficulties. They got in the car and went to Digger Jays. She found Mr. Shaughnessy in the bar and suggested they meet. He met them at the door and Ms. Morrissey asked why they were not being allowed in. He replied that it was a private function. She explained who they were. As a native, she explained the nature of the village where the pub is located and indicated that Travellers were always welcome. He said that they could come in and sit in the corner. When Ms. Morrissey spoke to the ladies they were quite upset and said that they did not want to go in at that stage and that they were embarrassed and ashamed by the whole incident. The group went on to Claremorris and had a reasonable night considering what had happened. Ms. Morrissey indicated that there were only six or seven cars in the car park at that time but there were people on duty helping people park. Some of these indicated that they had nothing to do with the refusal. She also indicated that these “are a great bunch of ladies who spent most of the day getting their hair done and getting ready for the night”. In the past she has travelled with some of them, to Paris for example.
Ms. Deirdre Robertson, Teacher
Ms. Robertson teaches Computers, Mathematics, and Irish Cultural Studies. She and Ms. Morrissey arrived and Mr. Shaughnessy was not at the door. Ms. Morrissey located him and when he came out she asked him why they could not get in. She knows Mr. Shaughnessy from her home town where her family runs a bar and restaurant. He turned to her and asked “what would your father or brother do if a crowd like this showed up at their door?” She replied “they would have to have a very valid reason to refuse them because nowadays it can’t be just because of who they are”. He asked why did they not ring to say they were coming and the reply was that they should not have to. He said he would let them in but put them in a corner. Ms. Robertson stated that they said no as the ladies did not want to go in at that stage.
Mr. John Joe Walsh, Bus Driver
Mr. Walsh picked up the ladies in the bus in Ballinrobe and when they arrived at Digger Jays they all got out and Mr. Shaughnessy spoke to them. After 10 or 15 minutes they got back on the bus. He then took them to Claremorris and eventually to Ballinrobe again.
Conclusions of the Equality Officer
I am satisfied, based on the evidence presented,
· that all of the complainants are members of the Traveller community
· that they were refused access to Digger Jay’s pub on 17th July 2003
· that there was a show on in the pub on that night
· that a call was made to confirm that tickets were not required in advance and
· that the pub was gearing up for a big night as staff and/or locals were helping with parking etc.
What remains to be decided is whether or not non-Travellers would have been refused in similar circumstances. It is well known that some establishments do not like the arrival of large groups unannounced. This is normally for logistical reasons such as having adequate staff on duty, having adequate food prepared and other such reasons. However, in this situation, the pub was prepared for a large attendance because of the show that was on that night. It is clear that bookings were not necessary and it is also clear that there was more than adequate space for the group.
The group was informed that it was a private function which was clearly untrue as the event had been advertised. Then indication was given that they were allowed in to sit in a corner.
I am satisfied that had a group of non-Travellers arrived they would have been admitted. Therefore I find that the complainants were less favourably treated than non-Travellers would have been in similar circumstances. This establishes a prima facie case of discrimination on the Traveller ground. The burden of proof therefore shifts to the respondent to present evidence to rebut the prima facie case of discrimination
As the respondent failed to appear at the hearing he has failed to present any such evidence which would rebut the prima facie case.
I find that the respondent has failed to rebut the prima facie case of discrimination and this decision is therefore in favour of the complainants.
I hereby order the respondent to pay each of the 11 complainants €700 each for the effects of the discrimination. Those complainants are:
Mary Sweeney, Ellen Sweeney, Ellen Conroy, Bridget Ward, Eileen Tighe, Kate Conroy, Margaret Sweeney, Breda Sweeney, Mary Teresa Sweeney, Mary Maughan, and Thomas Maughan.
20th June 2008