Hotel ordered to pay €5,000 for discriminating against Traveller woman

Complaint lodged under Equal Status Act over treatment when trying to book wedding venue

A woman who was discriminated against as a member of the Travelling Community by a hotel she had hoped to book for her wedding is to be paid €5,000 in compensation.

The woman lodged a complaint under the Equal Status Act against the venue in February 2020 over the manner of its dealings with her following a wedding showcase on July 21st, 2019. Neither she nor the hotel were named in the written decision.

The woman gave evidence that she went to see the venue and to speak to the hotel’s wedding coordinator after being invited in response to her inquiries the day before. She was planning to have between 100 and 120 guests and was flexible about dates, she said.

On the morning of the showcase, the hotel emailed asking the woman her surname. She provided her name and her fiancé’s in reply.

The bride said she arrived to find the wedding coordinator attending to another couple and was left waiting “a considerable period of time” and noticed that the hotel’s staff “were looking in her direction a lot”.

The bride said that while she was waiting she had spoken with another couple who told her the wedding coordinator had offered them a tour of the venue.

‘Aloof’

Her evidence was that when she did get to speak with the wedding coordinator the woman was “aloof” and “rushed their discussion before leaving”. The bride said the coordinator “neglected” to provide a tour of the venue and told her she would be in touch about available dates.

She said she told the coordinator she was flexible on dates but hoped to be married in November that year.

“It was nice meeting you Sunday. We absolutely loved the venue. What dates have you available?” the complainant wrote in an email two days later.

The bride told the hearing in March this year that she emailed twice again but got no response. One of her sisters gave evidence that they only managed to speak to the wedding coordinator for five minutes on the day of the showcase.

“She did not seem to be very enthusiastic; she seemed much happier with another couple,” the sister said.

A second sister who gave evidence said that despite the length of time they spent waiting to speak to the wedding coordinator – some 3½ hours according to other witnesses – hotel staff “never approached them to offer any assistance”.

The hotel, which was represented by Hassett Considine Solicitors, denied discrimination and submitted that it hosts weddings for members of the Traveller Community and currently employs a Traveller. Its solicitors argued that the bride was “totally non-committal on a date or dates on which she wanted to get married”.

‘Did not happen’

They also stated that the bride’s claim that another couple were given a tour “simply did not happen” as the wedding coordinator spent the day of the wedding showcase in the lobby and reception area.

The wedding coordinator said she would never give out a wedding date by phone or email or at a wedding showcase – rather she would invite them to visit the venue and take a deposit to secure a date, she said. She recalled speaking to the complainant but said she could not recall the bride saying she wanted to be married in November 2019.

The wedding coordinator said that would be “very tight” as a timeframe.

She said she knew the complainant was a member of the Travelling Community. Immediately after the wedding showcase, the wedding coordinator said she took compassionate leave because of “serious personal difficulties” and did not return to work until October 2019.

When she came back from leave, she wrote back to the complainant and apologised for the delay.

Adjudicating officer Marie Flynn wrote in her decision that the complainant and her two sisters had a “differing recollection and understanding of what happened at the wedding showcase” to the wedding coordinator.

She noted the precedent set by the Labour Court on unconscious bias – that “a person accused of discrimination may give seemingly honest evidence in rebuttal of what is alleged against them” – but that the court had to be “alert to the possibility of unconscious or inadvertent discrimination”.

Not aware

Ms Flynn wrote that she accepted the wedding coordinator’s delay in responding to the bride was down to “very traumatic events in her personal life”.

The wedding coordinator “did not seem to be aware” of the email the bride sent after the showcase asking about dates, or the follow-up emails, she wrote.

The adjudicating officer wrote that she was surprised the wedding coordinator did not tell the bride that the hotel would consider it “very short notice” to seek a booking for November in July.

Ms Flynn found the complainant had not established a prima facie case of discrimination in respect of the wedding showcase itself but that there was a case in respect of the subsequent communication between the parties which the company had failed to rebut. She found the bride had been discriminated against and awarded her €5,000 in compensation.