Judge O’Connor on 18 May upheld an appeal brought in the Circuit Court by two Roma women (who were represented by FLAC) against a decision of the Workplace Relations Commission dismissing their discrimination complaints against Dunnes Stores. The Circuit Court held that the women had been subject to unlawful discrimination on the ground of race contrary to the Equal Status Acts when they were expelled from Dunnes Stores on North Earl Street and awarded the women compensation.
FLAC states this is the first decision of its kind concerning the Roma Community and access to shops which sets an important precedent in light of the rampant discrimination suffered by the Roma community.
The two Roma women sought to appeal an earlier determination of the Workplace Relations Commission pursuant to a complaint made under Section 21 of the Equal Status Act 2000 (as amended). The appellants claim they were discriminated against on the grounds of race and ethnicity by the respondent, Dunnes Stores in the provision of goods and services at the respondent’s store.
The case concerned an incident in November 2019 whereby the two women were removed from Dunnes Stores on North Earl Street by a security officer. The incident took place when the women (one of whom was a minor at the time of the incident) went to the till to pay for their groceries. Dunnes Stores argued that one of the women had previously been barred from the shop for begging (which the woman denied) but was not able to provide any record of this or any evidence of previous incidents involving the women.
FLAC welcomes the decision of the Circuit Court delivered in favour of its clients (whose names are anonymised in the Court’s judgment) which upheld their discrimination complaint against Dunnes Stores. The case had previously been dismissed by the Workplace Relation Commission. In his decision on their appeal, His Honour Judge John O’Connor held that Dunnes Stores actions were contrary to the Equal Status Acts. He awarded the women €2,000 and €4,000 in compensation respectively.
In his written decision, Judge O’Connor held that “[d]iscrimination has to be objectively assessed to uphold the rule of law. In doing so it is necessary to go beyond mere tolerance and recognise that inclusion and diversity are important in their own sake”
“There should if possible be a record of previous incidents (if any). There should also an awareness of the problem that identity is frequently a genuine issue. We all have been in situations where we have embarrassed ourselves in thinking we recognise a particular person to only find it is a mistaken identity. In these circumstances there is also an added possibility of potentially stereotyping someone from an ethnic minority.…
there should be some awareness of the challenges and obstacles that a minority ethnic person can endure in shopping. There may in fact be more than one way to communicate a policy concern. In this regard it important to recognise that a person from an ethnic minority may have cultural concerns in regard to some forms of communication. This can be addressed by adequate training, and not just employee shadowing another employee. This policy can be reinforced by an employee user manual.
In some circumstances where a shopper feels they have been discriminated against, it would be beneficial to have an internal objectively based complaint handling mechanism option. In doing so it can facilitate the complaint being handled confidentially and carefully.”
FLAC Managing Solicitor, Sinéad Lucey, commented:
“This decision is one in a long series of discrimination complaints taken by FLAC on behalf of clients of our Roma Legal Clinic against providers of goods and services. Those cases often settle on confidential terms. This decision represents what we believe is the first decision of a court in Ireland finding that a member of the Roma community has been discriminated against in a retail setting on the ground of race. This form of discrimination is rampant and particularly impacts Roma women, such as FLAC’s clients, who wear traditional Roma attire as part of their ethnic identity. They were very brave in taking this case and we hope the guidance in the judgment is taken on board by other providers of goods and services as a means of avoiding stereotyping of any one community.”
FLAC Chief Executive, Eilis Barry, added:
“It is unlikely that FLAC’s clients could have pursued this case without FLAC’s dedicated Roma Legal Clinic. However, there is no legal aid for discrimination cases heard by the WRC and FLAC cannot meet the demand for its services. The current Review of the State’s scheme of civil legal aid must ensure access to legal information, advice and representation for all victims of discrimination.”
Click here for the link to the judgment in CT -v- Dunnes Stores Unlimited Company; FE -v- Dunnes Stores Unlimited Company  IECC 4.