A Co Cork hotel has been ordered to pay compensation of €16,000 to three Traveller women afterthey were discriminated against under a hotel policy requiring a credit card to secure a room.
Lawyers for the women had argued at the Workplace Relations Commission ruled that, due to high levels of unemployment in the Travelling community, the option of having a credit card was "very limited" and so for the overwhelming majority of that community, the policy was not neutral.
The women had secured two rooms using a debit card and had offered to pay for their accommodation in cash.
Annalise Power, her mother Ann Stokes, and her daughter Bridget Power, complained that they were discriminated against under the Equal Status Act by Atlantic Troy Ltd, trading as the Charleville Park Hotel and Leisure Club on the Limerick Road, Charleville, Co Cork on September 9th, 2019.
The hotel denied discriminating against the women and said the requirement to pay by card was applied to all potential customers.
Solicitor Fergus Feeney, on behalf of Annalise Power, told an equality hearing at the commission that his client had booked in advance online using Booking.com and her debit card before being asked to pay the balance when she arrived at reception that day.
The women had travelled from Longford to Charleville that day to attend a birthday party, arriving at 4pm, it was submitted.
But after going to their car to fetch money, Ms Power said she was told she would not be allowed to stay at the hotel unless she paid by credit card and that this policy had been in place since April 2019.
It was her case that the policy was an excuse which was used to prevent them staying in the hotel, and that they were discriminated against solely on the basis of membership of the Travelling Community.
The hotel denied this and said it had imposed a blanket policy for to all guests seeking a credit card and photo ID because of a number of incidents involving damage to rooms and unpaid bills the previous year, which it began to strictly enforce in June 2019.
Terms and conditions
It also argued the policy was clearly stated in the terms and conditions of the booking form used by Ms Power and that she had ticked the appropriate box.
Giving evidence, the hotel’s operations manager said he had met Annalise Power and said he would accept cash in payment, but that a credit card was required to secure the room.
He said 10 or 15 people had been sent away from the hotel since the policy had been brought in, but that he recalled one group of people from the Travelling Community from Northern Ireland had been admitted as one of them had a credit card.
He said he knew that Ms Power was a member of the Travelling Community, as she had said so to other members of staff who had informed him. The hotel manager also said Ms Power was abusive towards him because of his nationality.
Mr Feeney argued that even if the policy was made clear at the time of booking – which his clients disputed – the policy was invalid and discriminatory under the Equal Status Act.
Submitting a copy of the Census 2016 report on Irish Travellers, he cited the statistics on economic status and unemployment, which runs at 80 per cent.
In her ruling, adjudication officer Janet Hughes said the terms and conditions on the confirmation email did state: "guests must present a credit card under their name on check-in".
But she said there was nothing to say that failing to do so would result in a refusal to provide accommodation even if another form of payment was offered.
“It is not unreasonable to conclude that of those adults who seek to stay in hotels, members of Traveller Community … would have a disproportionate difficulty in meeting the terms of the neutral provision to obtain and to hold a credit card,” she wrote.
She said Annalise Power was a “case in point”, as she is unemployed.
“It may be presumed that the policy of the hotel in refusing accommodation to [Ms Power] on the basis of her not being able to provide a credit card was an act of discrimination against her,” she added.
She ordered Atlantic Troy to pay Annalise Power compensation of €3,500, saying it was “intended as a deterrent to the continued simplistic nature of the policy”.
However she said the award would have been higher if not for her conduct towards the hotel’s manager.
“He was doing his job in following a direction given to him,” Ms Hughes wrote. “Someone who wishes to rely on her protected status needs to be far more mindful that she is not entitled to make derogatory remarks about another person who also enjoys protected status.”
In two parallel judgments, Ms Hughes also ruled the hotel had discriminated against Ms Stokes, and her daughter Bridget Power.
She ordered compensation of €8,000 be paid to Ms Stokes and €4,500 to Bridget Power.