EQUAL STATUS ACTS 2000-2011
Decision DEC - S2012 - 039
Mr Robin O'Brien
Clare Inn Hotel Ltd (in receivership)
File References: ES/2011/0018
Date of Issue: 3rd October 2012
1.1. The cases concern claims by Mr Robin O'Brien that the Lynch Clare Inn Hotel discriminated against him on the ground of his 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 complainants referred their complaints under the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2011 to the Director of the Equality Tribunal on 28 February 2011, respectively. A submission was received on 13 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 Complainants' Written Submissions
2.1. Mr Robin O'Brien submits that he, his wife and his four children, had booked accommodation with the respondent. Mr O'Brien did the booking over the phone on 4 September 2010, and gave his Laser card. He received a booking reference. He then rang the respondent to confirm the booking, and was reassured in this regard. When the family arrived at the respondent premises, they were told they could not be accommodated due to a computer failure which had erased their booking.
2.2. Mr O'Brien further submits that his young daughter was on medications which needed to be stored chilled, and that his requests for assistance in this matter were treated very dismissely by the respondent.
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. Mr O'Brien gave evidence at the hearing of the complaint that he and his family, that is, his wife, daughters and twin sons, were travelling to the respondent hotel to attend a family reunion. Mr O'Brien had secured the original hotel booking through a booking company, using his Laser card, and had received a booking number. Furthermore, he rang the hotel a few days before the trip and the booking was confirmed. He and all his family identify themselves as members of the Traveller community.
4.4. Mr O'Brien stated that they got a late start on their trip due to the need for medical attention for his older daughter, who had been seriously ill for some time. Mrs Noreen O'Brien provided some additional evidence with regard to this matter. Miss O'Brien is dependent on medication which needs to be stored chilled. Therefore, they were the last members of his extended family to arrive at the hotel. Some 10 kilometres from the hotel, he received a call on his mobile phone from one of his brothers, to advise him "the hotel was cancelled". According to Mr O'Brien, he thought this was a joke made by his brother, and the family travelled on to check out the situation themselves.
4.5. When they arrived at the hotel, they collected their luggage, and went to reception, then gave their booking number. The time was around 9pm. They were told there was a computer breakdown, and that the hotel was overbooked because of this. However, Mr O'Brien stated that other guests, who were tourists and not members of the Traveller community were facilitated with check-ins despite the supposed computer failure.
4.6. Mr O'Brien stated that he was further told that the respondent's other two hotels were also fully booked and would not be in a position to accommodate the family. The reception manager stated this without consulting any records or similar. Mr O'Brien stated that he had extensive work experience in the hospitality industry, working in hotel kitchens, as a waiter and as a commis chef, and that he did not find it credible that even the hotel in question, never mind all three of the respondent hotels, should be fully booked in September.
4.7. When asked what, in his opinion, would have caused the reception manager to identify him and his family as members of the Traveller community, Mr O'Brien stated that the reception manager made the connection between him and his family, and all the other members of his extended family (in total 14 siblings with their spouses and children) who had been refused accommodation earlier.
4.8. Mr O'Brien further stated that it was very upsetting that the reception manager would not even offer assistance when Mr O'Brien requested an ice pack to continue cooling Miss O'Brien's medicine. He stated that the reception manager was very dismissive when the request was made. While there is no complaint before me with regard to Miss O'Brien's disability and the provision or otherwise of reasonable accommodation in respect of same, I accept that this treatment must have caused further upset to Mr O'Brien as her father. It seems unlikely to me that a request like this, on behalf of a sick girl who was not a member of the Traveller community, would have been similarly treated.
4.9. I found Mr O'Brien a credible witness and am satisfied that the treatment he and members of his 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, Mr 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 Mr Robin O'Brien when it refused him and the members of his family overnight accommodation in one of the respondent's hotels, on the ground that Mr O'Brien and his 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 Mr Robin O'Brien, his wife and his four 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 his family. I order this remedy following an application from the complainants.
3 October 2012