O'Brien v Grand Liquer Ltd (Scruples Niteclub)

CourtEquality Tribunal
Judgment Date09 October 2002
Date09 October 2002
Docket NumberEQUALITY OFFICER’S DECISION NOs: DEC-S2002- 106/111 File No. ES/2001/229-234

Equal Status Act 2000

Michael and Helen O'Brien, Jim and Christina Sherlock and John and Margaret McDonagh (represented by the Equality Authority )
Grand Liquer Ltd (Scruples Niteclub) (represented by Mason, Hayes and Curran, Solicitors)


File No. ES/2001/229-234

ODEI - the equality tribunal



Equality - Direct discrimination - Traveller community - Refusal of admission to nightclub - Membership scheme in place - Whether they were discriminated against - Equal Status Act, 2000, sections 3 (1) )(a), 3(2)(i) and 5(1)

Equal Status Act 2000 - Direct discrimination, section 3(1)(a) - Membership of the Traveller community, section 3(2)(i) - Supply of goods and services, section 5(1) - Refusal of admission to nightclub - Membership scheme in place

Six members of the Travelling Community were refused admission to Scruples Nightclub in December 2000. The respondents rejected that they operated a discriminatory policy against Travellers. They maintained that the complainants was refused admission because they operated a membership scheme and the complainants were not members of the nightclub.

Held The Equality Officer found that there was insufficient evidence to show that the complainants were treated less favorably than other non-members, who were not Travellers, were treated on 14 December 2000 in seeking admission to Scruples. Accordingly, he found that a prima facie case has not been established and refused the complaint.

Date of Issue 9/10/2002
1. Dispute

This dispute concerns a complaint by Michael and Helen O'Brien, Jim and Christina Sherlock


and John and Margaret McDonagh that they were discriminated against, contrary to the Equal Status Act 2000, by Scruples Nightclub. The complainants maintain that they were discriminated against on the Traveller community ground in terms of sections 3(1)(a) and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Act 2000 in not being provided with a service which is generally available to the public contrary to Section 5(1) of the Act.

2. Summary of the Complainant's Case

2.1 The complainants state that they were refused admission to Scruples Nightclub on 14 December 2000 on the grounds of their membership of the Traveller community.

Summary of Respondent's Case

3.1 The respondents totally reject that they operated a discriminatory policy against Travellers. They maintain that the complainants were refused admission because they operate a membership scheme and the complainants were not members of the nightclub

4 Delegation under the Equal Status Act, 2000

4.1 These complaints were referred to the Director of Equality Investigations under the Equal Status Act 2000. In accordance with her powers under section 75 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 and under the Equal Status Act 2000, the Director has delegated these complaints to myself, Brian O’Byrne, an Equality Officer, for investigation, hearing and decision and for the exercise of other relevant functions of the Director under Part III of the Equal Status Act, 2000.

5.1 Evidence of Complainants

The complainants went for a night out to the Kingston Hotel on 14 December 2000 with Ms Ann Griffin, who worked with them on a training course for Traveller women.


None of the complainants had been in Scruples nightclub, which is attached to the hotel, before and had no plans to go there that night on their arrival in the hotel.


The four women sat together in the hotel bar while the three men sat separately.


The women had 2 or 3 drinks each while the men may have had four drinks each between 8 pm and 11 pm.


While Ms Griffin was in the Ladies, the three female complainants noticed a member of staff, Ms Hegarty giving passes for Scruples to a nearby group of customers from a legal firm. They asked Ms Hegarty whether they could gain admission to the nightclub and were told that it was “Ladies Free” night. They think that Ms Hegarty gave them passes but do not recall producing them at the entrance to the nightclub.


Ms Griffin, who appeared as a witness for the complainants, left around 11pm to meet some other friends nearby. Before she left, she heard the other three women discussing going to Scruples


Ms Griffin described how she had visited Scruples on a number of occasions over the previous years and had not been asked for proof of membership. She recalled that some nights had been particularly busy but could not remember whether any of her visits had been during the Christmas period.


The six complainants decided to go to Scruples. The ladies left the hotel bar ahead of the three men. This was shortly after 11pm


When the women arrived at the nightclub entrance, Mr Norris was on the door and allowed them enter without question.


As soon as they had gone up the steps into the foyer, the women say that Mr Norris caught up with them and shouted “Out Out” in an aggressive manner. He quickly escorted them out saying that it was “members only”. He acted in a hostile manner to them throughout.


After being refused, the complainants questioned Mr Norris as to whether the refusal was related to their Traveller identity


The women cannot recall whether their husbands were standing outside when they were escorted out. However, they remember meeting them around this point and all agreeing to return to the hotel to order taxis.


The three male complainants say they approached the door after the women had entered. They were asked for membership by Mr Norris. They explained that they had not got any but that their wives had gone in ahead of them.


At that point, the men say that Mr Norris immediately ran up the steps, after the three women.


The men were asked to step aside by another doorman who they started to engage in conversation. They cannot specifically recall seeing their wives being escorted from the nightclub.


Other people were allowed access without being asked to produce membership cards


- The six complainants re-entered the hotel, explained to Ms Hegarty what had occurred, ordered taxis and had another couple of drinks while they were waiting. They were all back home by 12.30 am.


5.2 At the Hearing on 26 September 2002, the complainants introduced an Expert Witness, Ms Catherine Joyce, a Co-ordinator with the Irish Traveller Movement. Ms Joyce provided the Hearing with a detailed and informative insight into Traveller characteristics and Traveller culture.

5.3 Evidence of Respondents

Mr James Walsh took over as Managing Director of Scruples in 1996


A membership scheme was in place when he took over.


Scruples is situated in a residential area and objections have been lodged to the club’s dance licence in recent years as a result of noise and disturbances on the street after closing time.


As a result, Scruples has had conditions attached to its dance licence by the courts.


In order to comply with these conditions, the club was required to be vigilant with regard to the customers admitted, increasingly so in recent years.


To comply with the conditions, the club has enforced its membership scheme more vigorously in recent years, particularly at weekends and during holiday periods.


In July 2000, the club introduced a computerised membership system to ensure that proper records were kept of its members.


In December 2000, the club had an approximate membership of 1000. The membership fee was £60 at the time.


The nightclub’s “free list” was suspended in the run-up to Christmas 2000. Many people were turned away on 14 December 2000.


On busy nights, it is the custom of door staff to restrict access to members and regular customers only. Customer numbers are monitored on a nightly basis and refusals are made in accordance with available capacity.


The maximum number of people permitted under fire regulations is 440 although management state that a comfortable capacity is 350.


Computer receipts for 14 December 2000 show that 410 customers were admitted that night. This figure was broken down as 195 members, 105 concessions and 110 non-members.


On the night in question, the nightclub was expecting a big crowd. Advance telephone bookings from three groups (100 people) had been received and a group of 14 from a local legal firm, who were in the hotel bar, had arranged to visit the nightclub later.


Doorstaff were alerted to this fact and told to restrict the numbers being admitted.


Neither the hotel nor nightclub discriminates against Travellers. While, the hotel has had problems with some Travellers before, Travellers do visit the hotel and nightclub from time to time and are welcomed.


The nightclub closed temporarily in April 2002 to review its situation and future direction.


On 14 December 2000, Ms Catherine Hegarty, Hotel Manageress, was on duty. She recalls talking to the three female complainants who were on their own at that point, and saying that she thought it was a “Ladies Free” night in the nightclub. She now accepts that this was not the case on the night. She did not, however, provide them with passes.


Ms Hegarty recalls the six complainants returning to the hotel bar from the nightclub before 12.30 closing time and ordering a double round of drinks. They were the last to leave the bar that night, some time after 1 am.


Mr John Norris, Head...

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