Traveller Law Database
Marina McCarthy v. Gurranabrahar Credit Union ADJ-00025710
|Date of Decision:||Wed, 24 Jun 2020|
|Decision Making Body:||Workplace Relations Commission|
|Law Applied:||Equal Status Acts (2000-2018), Workplace Relations Act 2015|
|Keywords:||Equal Status Acts, Discrimination, Refusal of Service, Banking|
|Full Case Details - Download Full Judgment (pdf)|
Ms McCarthy submitted a claim of discrimination against a Credit Union under the Equal Status Act 2000, due to their withholding of a letter of loan refusal, and hostile treatment of her in the application process. The Workplace Relations Commission found that this treatment arising from her membership of the Traveller Community was contrary to the Equal Status Act.
The complainant (Ms McCarthy) is a member of the Traveller Community who alleged that she was discriminated against by the Respondent (Credit Union), in the way in which they dealt with her loan application. Ms McCarthy was in the process of pursuing a grant from Cork City Council for a mobile home. As part of the application, she was required to provide documentation to prove that she had attempted to seek, but was refused, a loan from two financial institutions.
Ms McCarthy visited the respondent Credit Union and applied for a loan through a receptionist, who stated that she would be contacted regarding the application within 48 hours. She revisited the premises after receiving no contact regarding the application and was informed that her account was barred and would need to be reactivated. Ms McCarthy had believed, prior to this, that she was an active member of the Credit Union in question.
Ms McCarthy returned to the Respondent’s establishment, accompanied by Traveller Visibility Group Advocate, Mr O’C. When they were informed that the receptionist would be unable to give them more information, they asked to speak to a manager about the application. Ms. McCarthy and Mr O’C then waited in a public area of the premises for a prolonged period, until Ms T, a senior manager, approached them. In the public area, she informed them that Ms. McCarthy’s account would need to be reactivated. However, she was not allowed to reactivate her account despite Mr O’C offering a €10 deposit for this purpose. The manager further stated that while she could issue a letter of loan refusal that in this instance she would not, because if she did, “they’ll all be down looking for one”. This interaction took place in a public area on the premises, within earshot of members of the public. Ms. McCarthy and Mr O’C both interpreted this to mean members of the Traveller Community.
McCarthy contended that the manager’s interactions were hostile towards her, noting that she did not shake her hand, despite shaking the hand of her advocate Mr. O’C. Furthermore, this interaction took place in a public area of the premises and Ms. McCarthy stated that she felt humiliated as it was within earshot of members of the public. She thus felt that she was discriminated against on the basis that she is an Irish Traveller.
The Credit Union accepted that it was aware that Ms. McCarthy is an Irish Traveller. However, the manager claimed that she was treated with all due respect and courtesy, as would be afforded to any person in similar circumstances. The respondent also claimed that the statement “they’ll all be down looking for one” was made concerning members of the Credit Union generally and not just in relation to Irish Travellers.
Mr O’C told Ms T that he would contact the Financial Ombudsman. An internal complaint was also lodged within the establishment. Days later, Mr O’C was contacted by the Respondents CEO and Ms McCarthy subsequently received the formal refusal letter.
The issue at hand was whether Ms. McCarthy was discriminated against in the Credit Union’s refusal to issue a letter of loan refusal and the way she was treated at the premises, on the basis that she is an Irish Traveller.
The Adjudication Officer found that Ms. McCarthy had established the necessary facts to assert that discrimination had occurred as required by the Equal Status Acts 2000-2018. The Respondent accepted that it was aware that Ms. McCarthy is an Irish Traveller and confirmed that she was not allowed to reactivate her account, nor was she issued a letter of loan refusal on the day in question. The onus then shifted to the Respondent to rebut the inference of discrimination.
The Credit Union claimed that the statement “they’d all be down looking for one” was meant concerning members of the Credit Union generally, but the manager accepted that she was aware that a group of Irish Travellers lived in an area nearby. The Adjudication Officer, on the balance of probabilities, found evidence given by Ms. McCarthy and Mr O’C was more compelling, that the comment was aimed at the Traveller Community. It was also held that there was not a justifiable reason as to why a letter of refusal was not provided on that day when it was later provided or to deny the Complainant the opportunity to reactivate her account.
It was further held that the manner in which the Respondent dealt with the Complainant in question, on the balance of probabilities, would not have been the same had the Complainant not been a member of the Traveller Community. The Respondent did not give any reasonable evidence that a member of the public in similar circumstances would have been treated the same. It was held that the inferred discriminatory treatment was not rebutted satisfactorily by the Respondent.
While the Respondent had plausible reasons to refuse the loan, this was not the issue at hand. The rejection of a reasonable request by the Complainant to issue a formal letter of loan refusal was found to be a discriminatory act, as well as the demeanour and remarks of the manager.
The Adjudication Officer concluded that under Section 27 of the Equal Status Act, the complaint was accepted, finding that the Complainant was discriminated against on the basis that she was a member of the Traveller Community. The Respondent was ordered to pay the Complainant €5,000.