Cork hotel wins appeal in €22,000 Traveller discrimination case
Posted on 18th October 2022 at 22:08
WRC previously ruled family had been discriminated against when hotel refused them accommodation while homeless in 2018
The owners of a Cork hotel have successfully appealed a €22,000 award made to a Traveller family by the Workplace Relations Commission, which had ruled the family had been discriminated against when the hotel refused them accommodation.
Atlantic Troy Ltd, trading as Charleville Park Hotel, which is owned by Galway businessman and Supermac’s owner, Pat McDonagh, had appealed the ruling by the WRC to Cork Circuit Court where on Tuesday Judge James O’Donohue found in favour of the company and overturned the award to the family.
Bridget O’Reilly of De Valera Park, Charleville told how she and her husband, Philip O’Neill and their two children had been assessed as homeless by Cork County Council on September 25th, 2018, and two days later a Community Welfare Officer (CWO) rang the hotel to book three nights’ accommodation.
The officer was told by the hotel that there was no available accommodation, but Ms O’Reilly told how she went online and booked three nights accommodation in her husband’s name and she used a debit card to make the booking.
However, when Ms O’Reilly went to the hotel the following morning with the CWO for the purpose of checking in, the receptionist told her that she needed a credit card even though there had been no mention of needing a credit card when she made the online booking.
The CWO had with her a cheque for three nights’ accommodation, but the receptionist said that the hotel would only accept a booking with a credit card and there was nothing she could do as it was the company policy to only accept credit cards, she said.
“I just saw the look on their faces — ‘it said you’re not coming in here’ — they had a smirk on their faces,” said Ms O’Reilly, adding she had grown up in Charleville and she felt embarrassed she was refused entry to the only hotel in her hometown and the family had to return to their cold caravan.
‘I felt embarrassed’
Cross-examined by barrister for Atlantic Troy Ltd, James Charity BL, Ms O’Reilly agreed that the terms and conditions of the online booking form included a requirement that customer would pay by credit card, and she accepted that she had not seen this when making the booking.
Philip O’Neill told how he too felt he had been discriminated against when they were told that they could not stay in the hotel. “I felt embarrassed that I was being refused entry by a hotel in my hometown,” he told the court.
Questioned by Judge Donohoe, Mr O’Neill said that he previously gone for drinks in the hotel bar and had not been refused entry while he was also a member of the hotel leisure club for a period of three months and there never had been any issue over his membership.
Ms O’Reilly’s barrister, Sharon Dillon-Lyons BL submitted it was her client’s case that they were discriminated against on two grounds — firstly, that they were in receipt of housing assistance allowance and secondly, on the basis that they were members of the Travelling community.
She said that it was their case that the hotel’s refusal to accept Ms O’Reilly’s booking because she did not have a credit card was “a tool being used by the hotel to refuse the family accommodation” because they were in receipt of housing assistance allowance and because they were Travellers.
Mr Charity disputed this and read out a letter from Mr McDonagh to Ms O’Reilly’s solicitor, Sinead Lucey from October 23rd, 2018, in which he confirmed that it was the hotel policy to only take bookings from those with credit cards.
“We have accommodated and continue to accommodate persons from all walks of life in our hotels, The background of the persons involved had nothing whatsoever to do with the circumstances that persisted on the occasion,” Mr McDonagh wrote.
Mr McDonagh took the stand and told the court that his group owned six hotels and it was their policy that customers were required to provide a personal credit card and photo ID to make a booking as it was security against any other costs or fees that customers might incur.
And he strongly rejected any suggestion that he had discriminated against Ms O’Reilly and Mr O’Neill because they were members of the Travelling community and said that Travellers had stayed in the Charleville Park and other hotels throughout his group.
Judge O’Donohoe said that it came down to the requirement to have a credit card and Ms O’Reilly accepted she had misread the terms and conditions of the online booking regarding credit cards and that she did not have one when she went to the reception to follow through on the online booking.
He said what was also pertinent in the case was the evidence of Mr O’Neill that he had not been prevented from drinking in the hotel bar or being a member of the hotel’s leisure club, which led him to question where, as claimed by the plaintiffs, was the prima facie case of discrimination.
He said he believed that Ms O’Reilly and Mr O’Neill were “two highly respectable individuals” but they had brought their case on an “ill-based perception” that they were being discriminated against over the fact that they were in receipt of housing assistance and were Travellers.
He did not believe that to be case and believed that Charleville Park’s refusal to provide them with accommodation was due to their failure to have a credit card as required by hotel policy and he granted the appeal and overturned the WRC award.
Mr Charity said that it was his client’s instructions not to apply for costs in the case and Judge O’Donohue said that he would have refused to make any order for costs if requested, and he wished Ms O’Reilly and Mr O’Neill well after hearing that they had now secured council accommodation.
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