ADJUDICATION OFFICER DECISION
Adjudication Reference: ADJ-00019780
Rolestown House Hotel Ltd t/a Kettles Country House Hotel
Enda P Moran B.C.L.
Stephen O’Sullivan B.L.
Karl Howe, Solicitor.
Neal Flynn, B.L.
Complaint/Dispute Reference No.
Date of Receipt
Complaint seeking adjudication by the Workplace Relations Commission under Section 21 Equal Status Act, 2000
Date of Adjudication Hearing: 21/05/2019
Workplace Relations Commission Adjudication Officer: David Mullis
In accordance with Section 41 of the Workplace Relations Act, 2015 and Section 25 of the Equal Status Act, 2000,following the referral of the complaint to me by the Director General, I inquired into the complaint and gave the parties an opportunity to be heard by me and to present to me any evidence relevant to the complaint.
The Complainant booked a function room in the Respondent hotel for a celebration following the First Communion of his daughter on the 12th May 2018. He says that the booking was cancelled shortly before the due date of the celebration. He concluded that this was because he and his family are members of the Traveller community. He is seeking adjudication on his complaint under Section 21 of the Equal Status Act, 2000.
Summary of Complainant’s Case:
The Complainant says that he and his wife are settled travellers.
He says that he booked a function room in the Respondent’s hotel for his daughter’s first communion celebration. This was to be held on the 12th May 2018.
He says he and his wife viewed the function room on the 16th April 2018 and paid a €150 cash deposit for which they received a receipt. He says that this arrangement was concluded with the receptionist – who has since left this employment.
The complainant says that he was advised, on the 4th May 2018 that the hotel had to cancel his booking because they discovered at that time that the function room was double-booked and they had to cancel the complainant’s booking. He says that he believes that the cancellation was prompted by the belief of the respondent that he and his wife were members of the Traveller community and therefore not acceptable to the hotel. This was the point at which they say they were discriminated against in contravention of the Equal Status Act, 2000 and that but for the fact of them being travellers this booking would not have been withdrawn. This was just about eight days prior to the event for which they made the booking and given the demand for function rooms in the communion season they found it impossible to secure an alternative venue. They also say that they had invited relatives from across Ireland and the UK to the celebration.
They say further that they had issued the Respondent with the ES1 form in an effort to receive further information on the reason for the cancellation but received no reply.
They are seeking redress for the discrimination by way of compensation under Section 21 of the Act and specifically under Section 27:
(a) Compensation for the effects of the discrimination and
(b) An order that a person or persons specified in the order take a course of action which is so specified.
Summary of Respondent’s Case:
At the outset of this case there was an issue around whether the complaint was lodged within the time limit laid down in the Act. The Respondent said they did not wish to proceed with this issue.
The Respondent did make issue about the responsibility of the Complainant to establish a prima facie case before the onus of proof passed to them.
I considered that, in the circumstances, the Complainant had established such a case and that it fell to the Respondent to prove that there was no intended discrimination.
In making their case the Respondent says that they completely refute that the Complainant’s booking was cancelled as a result of his membership of the traveller community. They say that the cancellation was due to the fact that there was a double booking for the function room in question and that the other person booking had done so before the complainant. They say that they followed their business rule in these circumstances and accommodated the person who was first to make the booking. They presented evidence of the prior booking by the other person. They had no other available function room. They say it is a small family hotel with such facilities being few.
They say that Section 3(2) of the Act provides that discriminatory grounds includes a difference of treatment on the basis of, inter alia, membership of the traveller community and that “as between any two persons, the discriminatory grounds (and the descriptions of those grounds for the purposes of this Act) are:
(i) That one is a member of the traveller community and the other is not – ( the Traveller- community ground).
They say that the treatment that the Complainant received was the same as any other person (the comparator) would receive in the same or similar circumstances. In this they say that double bookings are not a feature of their business, but when they arise are always a problem for the business as well as the client. They say that their business electronic booking system was not robust at times such as Communion bookings, which come in big numbers at particular times of the year. Sometimes they have long notice of the communion dates and sometimes too short. This they say gives rise for the need for a manual system to operate alongside the electronic one. This manual system is operated solely by the weddings and events manager. The arrangement with the hotel was made with a relatively new Receptionist, who did not have sight of the events manager’s daily diary of events. This is how the double booking issue arose. It was, they said, an administrative error for which they accept responsibility. They have since, they say, changed their system.
They further say that they would not and do not discriminate against members of the traveller community. They say that, in fact, they have had weddings and other functions in their hotel booked by members of the traveller community. They further say that members of the traveller community avail of catering services in the hotel, particularly at weekends. They say this to demonstrate their assertion that they do not discriminate against members of the traveller community..
They say that when they realised that there was a double booking they tried to contact the Complainant, using the contact information provided with the booking but were unable to contact the Complainant by e-mail. They say that they could not contact him by phone either, despite numerous attempts to do so.
They say the Complainant contacted the Events manager on the 4th May 2018 at this time the Complainant was advised about the problem with the booking. The events manager says she explained the dilemma to him, but was aware of the difficulty this posed for the Complainant. She says that she and the receptionist made enquiries to other hotels about possible vacancies, but given the “communion season” there was no availability. She said that she empathised with the disappointment of the Complainant and did what she could do to find an alternative venue. I was impressed by her evidence in relation to how the administrative error had come about and the sincerity of her regret at what occurred.
Findings and Conclusions:
I find that there was no discrimination intended by the Respondent and that they demonstrated clearly that they have no discriminatory disposition towards members of the Traveller community. I believe that they apply their own rules, fairly and consistently,. in circumstances of double booking. I accept that they made an administrative blunder, but that difficult as it was for the Complainant, on an important day for him and his family, it does not amount to discrimination under the terms of the Equal Status Act, 2000
Section 25 of the Equal Status Acts, 2000 – 2015 requires that I make a decision in relation to the complaint in accordance with the relevant redress provisions under section 27 of that Act.
The complaint fails.
Dated: 29th May, 2019
Workplace Relations Commission Adjudication Officer: David Mullis