Discrimination – travellers ban costs Wetherspoon £1m

When delegates at the annual conference of the Irish Traveller Movement tried to get a pint in the Coronet pub in Islington, they were turned away. The action cost Wetherspoon £3k per head in damages, but the legal bill is thought to approach £1m for the pub chain. What did they do wrong, and what can employers generally learn from the case?

This widely reported case concerned the refusal to admit to a pub 8 members of a charity designed to help integrate travellers into mainstream communities. The pub bouncers, who had been appointed only because of the traveller’s conference were very open that the travellers were not welcome because of trouble in the pub the previous year. Unfortunately for them the group included a retired police inspector and a lawyer, the latter brought the legal proceedings.

The Equality Act, whose influence is wider than just employment law, prohibits discrimination on any of 9 listed grounds, and included in these is discrimination on grounds of Age, Disability, Gender reassignment, Marriage and civil partnership, Pregnancy and maternity, Race, Religion and belief, Sex, Sexual orientation.

In this particular case the pub directly refused to admit members of the travelling community because they were members of that community, thereby committing direct race discrimination. The implications for all venues are pretty obvious, if travellers are in the area, don’t indiscriminately ban them from entry, though of course known trouble makers can still be excluded.

For the wider community of employers the message is just as stark. Particular groups sometimes (as in this case) are excluded because of a person’s belonging to it. It may not have been obvious that travellers belong to a particular race and therefore discrimination is occurring, but of course they do – in this case Irish descent, it could easily have been Romany gypies – nationality is one of the subsets of race on grounds of which discrimination or subjecting people of that nationality to detriment (not letting them in for a pint in this case) is (and was) unlawful.

If you do nothing else as a result of reading about this case, please get hold of an updated discrimination at work policy (sometimes called ‘Dignity at Work), read it and ensure managers and staff do the same (available from myHRdept.) Had the bouncers at the Coronet pub not been so explicit about why the group were excluded, the case against Wetherspoon would not have been quite as strong. In the event it was incontrovertible.

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