Traveller Law Database
A Prospective Customer v. A Hotel/Wedding Venue ADJ-00026881
|Date of Decision:||Wed, 06 Jan 2021|
|Decision Making Body:||Workplace Relations Commission|
|Law Applied:||Equal Status Acts (2000-2018), EU Racial Equality Directive 2000/43/EC|
|Keywords:||Discrimination, Refused Access to Goods and Services, Hotel, Wedding Venue, Extension of Time Limit, Section 21 of the Equal Status Acts, Article 15 of the EU Racial Equality Directive 2000/43/EC, ES1 form|
|Full Case Details - Download Full Judgment (pdf)|
A prospective customer contacted a hotel regarding her wedding reception. The hotel refused to engage or provide her with information after learning her surname, which identified her as a Traveller. The Workplace Relations Commission found that discrimination had occurred, and the prospective customer was awarded €15,000.
On 20th July 2019, the Complainant emailed the Respondent hotel with a query regarding the possibility of holding her wedding reception at the hotel. The wedding coordinator at the hotel, Ms A, responded to this email, inviting the Complainant to attend a wedding showcase the following day. The two exchanged further emails the same day regarding guest numbers and available dates.
On 21st July 2019, the prospective customer further enquired as to the exact time the Showcase would take place and received an immediate response. Ms A sent another email that day enquiring as to the Complainant’s surname. The Complainant provided both her and her fiancé’s surnames. The hotel did not respond to this email.
Later that day, at the showcase, Ms A was speaking to another couple when the Complainant arrived with her two sisters. After waiting a considerable amount of time, she approached Ms A so that she might be shown around the hotel and discuss available dates for her wedding reception. The Complainant did not receive a tour of the venue, despite the couple before her having been given one. Ms A informed the Complainant and her sisters that she would be in contact regarding available dates. Her manner was described as “aloof and rushed” during her interaction with the Complainant.
Ms A did not contact the prospective customer in the following days, so on 23rd July 2019, she emailed the hotel regarding available dates for the reception and also to say that she was very happy with the hotel as a venue. The hotel did not respond to this, so she sent two more emails regarding the same on 31st July and 4th August 2019.
On 1st October 2019, an ES1 Form, as required under the Equal Status Acts, was sent to Ms A, seeking an explanation as to why she had not responded to the prospective customer. Ms A responded via email on 23rd October 2019. She apologised and stated that there had been a misunderstanding as she had been waiting for the Complainant to contact her. She did not provide information regarding available dates for the wedding reception.
The time limit for such complaints under the Equal Status Acts is six months after the incident occurred, or twelve months if the Decision-maker is satisfied that exceptional circumstances prevented the case from being taken sooner. The most recent occurrence of alleged discrimination in this case was on 4th August 2019. The Workplace Relations Commission received the complaint on 5th February 2020, which was outside of the six-month time frame. The Complainant submitted evidence that she had spent the period between 29th January 2020 and 10th February 2020 in the hospital, which had led to a delay in submitting the complaint. It was argued that this constituted exceptional circumstances and that the time limit should be extended, which the WRC Adjudicating Officer permitted.
This case concerns “discrimination”, as defined in Section 3(1)(a) of the Equal Status Acts, on the “Traveller Community” ground under s. 3(2)(i). The Complainant stated that she and her sisters are readily identifiable as Travellers, and their surname is common among Travellers. The hotel staff became aware, at the showcase on 21st July 2019, that the prospective customer was a Traveller, and she argued that this was the reason that the hotel refused to inform her of their available dates for her wedding reception.
Furthermore, the Complainant submitted that the hotel’s response to the ES1 Form was “inadequate and illogical”. Ms A claimed that she had been waiting for the Complainant to contact her, despite the fact that the opposite had been decided when they met on 21st July. The hotel also failed to address the fact that the prospective customer had in fact made contact, by sending three emails in the days following the wedding showcase. The lack of response from the hotel was in stark contrast to their previous correspondence, prior to the meeting at the wedding showcase, when the hotel had answered all emails within the day. The Complainant also raised the argument that even if Ms A had been waiting to hear from her, the hotel had her contact information and would have easily been able to make contact after not hearing from her following the showcase. Finally, despite becoming aware of the alleged misunderstanding on 23rd October, Ms A still did not provide any information regarding available dates.
In regard to the meeting at the wedding showcase, the prospective customer claimed that she was treated differently from other attendees, as she was not provided with information on wedding packages nor was she given a tour of the hotel. This treatment continued by the hotel’s refusal to provide information regarding their availability of dates in response to her enquiries. The experience left the Complainant feeling “devastated, humiliated and like a second-class citizen”.
Section 38A of the Equal Status Acts sets out the required burden of proof in such cases. The Complainant submitted that she had provided sufficient information to raise a prima facie case, which would then place the burden of proof on the Respondent hotel to prove that the treatment she received was not due to her status as a Traveller. The hotel did not respond to the complaint, nor did they attend the Oral Hearing for the complaint.
It was decided that the Complainant’s hospitalisation represented exceptional circumstances, and that the time limit for the complaint may be extended to twelve months, as provided for under s. 21(7) of the Equal Status Acts.
The Adjudicating Officer stated that it was for the Complainant to establish that they were eligible under a discriminatory ground to make a complaint, and then to provide evidence of the alleged discrimination to shift the onus of proof to the Respondent. The Complainant was a Traveller, and thus could make a complaint under the ground of Membership of the Traveller Community. The hotel would not have been aware that the prospective customer was a Traveller when they first received an email from her, and the correspondence from the wedding coordinator at this time was positive and congratulatory. The hotel responded immediately to the prospective customer regarding her queries before the Showcase. The hotel then did not respond after the Complainant provided her full name. The Adjudicating Officer was satisfied as to the Complainant’s evidence that her surname would identify her as a Traveller.
It was also accepted that the Complainant and her sisters were forced to wait a considerable amount of time and when Ms A did attend to them, it was in an abrupt and rushed manner, unlike the amount of time spent with the previous couple. The evidence submitted also showed that the prospective customer attempted to contact the hotel on three separate occasions but received no response.
The Adjudicating Officer noted that it was difficult to understand why the wedding coordinator would not have engaged with a prospective customer, given that weddings make up a significant proportion of hotel revenue. The wedding reception in question would have brought 100/120 guests to the hotel, which would have been a significant business opportunity for the hotel.
Given this evidence, it was found that there was a clear disengagement by the hotel from correspondence with the Complainant and that this directly coincided with the wedding coordinator being made aware of the Complainant’s full name.
It was concluded that there was no other plausible or logical explanation for the disengagement of the hotel other than the status of the Complainant as a Traveller. Thus, it was found that the Complainant had established her claim of discrimination. In the absence of any rebuttal by the hotel, the Adjudicating Officer found that the Complainant had been discriminated against on the basis of her status as a Traveller.
The Complainant sought compensation under s. 27 of the Equal Status Acts. Article 15 of the Council Directive (2000/43/EC) states that such compensation must be “effective, proportionate and dissuasive.” Thus, she was awarded €15,000 in compensation for the effects of the discrimination.