EQUAL STATUS ACTS 2000-2011
Decision DEC - S2012 - 038
Mrs Mary O'Brien (represented by the Equality Authority)
Clare Inn Hotel Ltd (in receivership)
File References: ES/2011/0018
Date of Issue: 3rd October 2012
1.1. The cases concern claims by Mrs Mary O'Brien that the Clare Inn Hotel Ltd discriminated against her on the ground of her membership of the Traveller community contrary to Section 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2011, in terms of refusal to provide a service within the meaning of S. 2 of the Acts.
1.2. The complainant referred her complaint under the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2011 to the Director of the Equality Tribunal on 27 January 2011. A submission was received from Mrs O'Brien on 9 April 2011 and another one on 15 July 2011. No submission was received from the respondent; however, solicitors instructed by the respondent's receivers wrote to the Tribunal on 13 March 2011, indicating that the receivers did not intend to defend the cases. On 21 August 2012, in accordance with his powers under S. 75 of the Acts, the Director delegated the case to me, Stephen Bonnlander, an Equality Officer, for investigation, hearing and decision and for the exercise of other relevant functions of the Director under Part III of the Acts. On this date my investigation commenced. As required by Section 25(1) of the Acts and as part of my investigation, I proceeded to hold a joint hearing of the case on 14 September 2012. The respondent did not attend the hearing.
2. Summary of the Complainant's Written Submissions
2.1. Mrs Mary O'Brien submits that she booked accommodation with the respondent to attend a family reunion on 4 and 5 September 2010. She secured the booking through her credit card.
2.2. On arrival, she was told by the receptionist that the receptionist could not find her name on the computer. Mrs O'Brien then rang her neighbour for the booking reference and gave it to the receptionist. She also alerted the receptionist that her son had asthma and needed a nebuliser. She and her family were nevertheless refused accommodation, and told to try the hotel down the road. The O'Brien's decided to return to Cork instead.
2.3. According to Mrs O'Brien, after pressing the issues of the refused accommodation and the refused assistance for her son with the hotel for some time, she received a letter of apology for the latter, and verbally, the offer of a free weekend. However, this was never confirmed to her in writing.
3. Summary of the Respondent's Written Submission
3.1. As noted above, the respondent is in liquidation and its receivers are not defending the cases.
4. Conclusions of the Equality Officer
4.1. The issues for decision in this case are whether the complainant was discriminated against within the meaning of the Acts.
4.2. In evaluating the evidence before me, I must first consider whether the complainant has established a prima facie case pursuant to S. 85A of the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011. The Labour Court has held consistently that the facts from which the occurrence of discrimination may be inferred must be of "sufficient significance" before a prima facie case is established and the burden of proof shifts to the respondent.
4.3. Mrs O'Brien, along with her husband and children, are settled members of the Travelling community and live in Cork. They are well integrated in their local community and on friendly terms with their neighbours. The events that gave rise to the case on hand started when her husband and his siblings planned a family reunion in one of the respondent's hotels. Mrs O'Brien stated in evidence how she had booked the hotel accommodation for herself, her husband and children, using her credit card and receiving a booking reference.
4.4. When she arrived at the hotel and went to reception to check in, that the receptionist kept her finger on the computer, stopped halfway down the screen and said: "I will be back in a moment." When the receptionist returned, she was accompanied by a male staff member whom Mrs O'Brien presumed to have been the receptionist's manager.
4.5. According to Mrs O'Brien, that man then also put his finger on the computer screen and said to her: "I am sorry, I cannot find you". Mrs O'Brien then rang her neighbour in Cork, asked her to go to her house and retrieve the booking reference. The neighbour did so, and the complainant submitted a brief written statement from the neighbour, which confirmed these facts.
4.6. The man at the reception desk, when he heard the booking reference from Mrs O'Brien, repeated to her that he could not find her on the system. Mrs O'Brien then asked to have a look at the computer screen, but was refused by the female receptionist.
4.7. Mrs O'Brien then made enquiries about a brief accommodation of her son, who suffers from asthma and needed to use a nebuliser, but this was refused. I should note that the complainant has submitted correspondence from the respondent in which the respondent apologised for this. Mrs O'Brien then stated that they needed to stop at a roadside restaurant to have their son use his nebuliser.
4.8. When asked what, in his opinion, would have caused the reception manager to identify her and her family as members of the Traveller community, Mrs O'Brien stated that the reception staff made the connection because of the size and characteristics of the entire extended family group which was present in the reception area at the time.
4.9. Mrs O'Brien stated that she then asked the man at reception: "Is this because of who I am?", to which, according to her, he replied: "You said it, I didn't."
4.10. Mrs O'Brien further stated that the main impact of the hotel staff's action was the upset and humiliation caused to her and her husband in front of their children, who were seven and 12 years respectively at the time and well aware of what was happening to their parents. Further embarrassment was caused to the complainant and her family when they had to explain to their neighbours as to why they had returned early from their weekend away.
4.11. I found Mrs O'Brien a credible witness and am satisfied that the treatment she and members of her family experienced at the respondent hotel does constitute less favourable treatment because they were members of the Traveller community, and that this evidence has not been rebutted. Accordingly, Mrs O'Brien is entitled to succeed in his complaint.
5.1. Based on all of the foregoing, I find, pursuant to S. 29(4) of the Acts, that Clare Inn Hotels Ltd discriminated against Mrs Mary O'Brien when it refused her and the members of her family overnight accommodation in one of the respondent's hotels, on the ground that Mrs O'Brien and her family are members of the Traveller community.
5.2. Accordingly, I order pursuant to S. 27(1) of the Acts that Clare Inn Hotels Ltd, at one of its three locations, accommodates Mrs Mary O'Brien, her husband and their two children for a two-night weekend break, with accommodation and breakfast for all these persons provided by the respondent at no expense for the complainant and her family. I order this remedy following an application from the complainants.
3 October 2012