A lose, lose situation

Following a recent discrimination case involving a member of the Travelling Community, Cork publican Peter Collins is calling for a review of how discrimination claims under the Equal Status Act 2000, which occur on a licensed premises are processed. He tells Fionnuala Carolan his story

In any business in which you deal with the general public in the provision of either goods or services, the potential risk of discrimination cases is ever present and when you hire people to work in your business, you are depending on them to treat the public fairly so this doesn’t occur. However no matter how careful you or your staff are, you can find your business embroiled in a very costly and stressful discrimination or public liability case at any time.
Peter Collins, the proprietor of Barry’s of Douglas in Cork is calling for a review of discrimination claims under the Equal Status Act, 2000 after successfully defending a discrimination claim against his company, Douglas Taverns. Despite winning the case, he has still been hit by nearly €7,000 in costs and a huge amount of time, not to mention the tremendous amount of stress involved for both himself and his staff and this is something he has been faced with before and dreads having to face again.
While Collins is obviously happy to have won the case, he wants to be clear on the fact that this is not an attack on the Travelling Community, who he wholly believes deserve representation against discrimination. Instead he is questioning the legal process that determines how these cases are managed.
“There seems to be an increase in discrimination cases, certainly for me and other publicans and hoteliers,” says Collins who is also the proprietor of the Carrigaline Court Hotel.
When claims of discrimination happen on a licensed premises, they go to the District Court rather than the Workplace Relations Commission that adjudicates on all other discrimination claims that do not allegedly occur on a licenced premises.
According to David Gaffney of Gaffney Solicitors who defended Barry’s of Douglas under the official name ‘Douglas Taverns’ in the case, “Judges are responsible for renewing licences every year. A judge hears any opposition to a licence being renewed which could include, amongst other things, reference to cases in the licensees history of claims of a discriminatory nature” he points out.

Barry’s of Douglas is owned by Peter Collins of Douglas Taverns

In the recent case against Douglas Taverns, discrimination alleged by a member of the Travelling Community, the complainant was represented by the Legal Aid Board. The case came before Judge Marian O’ Leary at Cork District Court on the 15 November last and judgment was reached on 1 December whereby Judge O’Leary found in favour of the respondent, Douglas Taverns.
“We got a very positive outcome in this case,” says Gaffney. “Basically what happened was two individualscame into the bar and ordered a couple of drinks and they were served. They proceeded to order four more drinks between them. One of the individuals was a member of the Travelling Community and the other individual was not. The manager considered their behaviour to be unacceptable and when they sought to order more drinks, within a short period of time, a member of staff advised the individuals that they would not be served any more alcohol. It is important to note that the individuals were not asked to leave the premises and were perfectly entitled to purchase food or soft drinks.
The individuals in question were both treated as any other patron of the bar would be treated and were not the subject of any form of discriminatory treatment,” explains Gaffney.

Collins points out that it was two weeks before the judge found in his favour and awarded costs to him. “I suppose the story that I think is important to tell, is that this whole process from the complainant was free. They had counsel down from Dublin. The whole case was paid for by the state. I’m calling for a review of the discrimination laws because I feel like there are certain individuals out there taking advantage of this situation. There were significant costs to our company to defend this case and yet it appears that individuals can try their luck and if they are successful they get a few grand and if not they walk off and lose nothing. I want to publicise that point,” states Collins.

Legal Aid Board

In 2020 the Legal Aid Board appointed and got funding for a solicitor specifically for The Travellers Rights Unit for which the costs associated with such cases would be covered by the State.
The problem for Collins lies in the fact that despite being cleared of any wrongdoing by the courts, he is still liable for his own costs and because these kinds of cases are becoming more prevalent, he has dealt with this a number of times in the past five years so the costs are stacking up. He often cannot recoup costs and certainly he can’t recoup the time that is put into defending these cases which is all time away from his business. “The last four years I’ve had two of those cases which I have won and so I have born the cost of €20,000 defending my name,” explains Collins.
“Usually what happens in civil cases is that if the complainant loses, the winning party has their costs paid for by the losing party, and if you were granted costs, (and in Collin’s case costs were awarded) it is available to Douglas Taverns to pursue the complainant for the costs, but the process involved in seeking to recover costs necessitates the incurring of further costs, all of which in cases such as these prove unrecoverable.” explains Gaffney.

What happens if you lose a discrimination case?

Peter Collins, the proprietor of Barry’s of Douglas in Cork is calling for a review of discrimination claims under the Equal Status Act, 2000

Things could obviously be a lot worse if Collins had lost the case. We wondered what the situation would have been in that instance.
“The Court could award compensation of up to €13,000 to a successful complainant who has alleged discrimination and the respondent would be responsible also for their own legal costs in defending the case and discharging the legal costs of the complainant.” explains Gaffney.
“There is also the prospect of an appeal to the Circuit Court even if you are unsuccessful in the District Court and the complainant’s costs would be financed by the State, but the respondent would continue to have to bear its’ own costs. In discrimination cases, a member of the Travelling Community can easily go to a higher court without worrying about costs whereas I’m shaking at the thoughts of it. We haven’t experienced that but it happens,” adds Collins.

Collins, who has run Barry’s of Douglas since 1994 is keen to stress that he believes that there needs to be protection for marginalised groups in society but feels like the way in which the Legal Aid Board functions, does not make it fair for publicans who are also expected to run an orderly house and keep people safe. “The process is the process and I don’t think we can complain about the court process. It’s there to protect us all but the whole set up is totally unfair and you can be taken advantage of very easily. Obviously not everybody is being disingenuous but it is too easy for too many to take advantage of a system that was set up for a good reason. Some people are being discriminated against and I’m glad there is a process there to help them but in situations where it’s a money making venture, something needs to be done about it. The unit is there and there is no recompense on individuals taking a false claim and until there are consequences for that it’s not going to change. I’m calling for government to take a look at how onerous it is on a business because eventually, it will just lead to job losses.”

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