Thursday 23 January 2020

Traveller woman fails in discrimination claim against business owned by Michael Healy Rae

Michael Healy-Rae Photo: Frank McGrath
Michael Healy-Rae Photo: Frank McGrath

Gordon Deegan

Michael Healy Rae’s business has avoided sanction or blame in a discrimination claim by a Traveller woman.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found that Veronica Battles has failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination on all grounds claimed - gender, disability, race and Traveller community.

Ms Battles had taken the case against the Kerry TD’s  Black Cap & Company Ltd - trading as Healy Rae Mace Shop, in Kilgarvan, Co Kerry.

On May 20, shop assistant JS and Ms Battles had a dispute over what change was owed to Ms Battles, as she stated that she handed in a €50, and JS stated that she had handed in a €20.

During the interaction with Ms Battles in the store, JS had heated words with a colleague.

JS told the hearing that a co-worker sought to intervene, and he told her to “f**k off” when she asked him to go into the office and “stop treating him like a child”.

JS apologised to Ms Battles that she had to witness his use of bad language directed to a co-worker, but gave evidence that he did not use bad or discriminatory language towards her.

As part of her Traveller discrimination claim, Ms Battles claimed that JS told her that he was “I’m sick of ye” during the transaction and she understood the use of the word “ye” was meant a member of the Traveller Community.

Ms Battles - who attended the shop once a week - stated that as a result of what occurred she took up smoking again and was forced to seek help from the HSE.

JS denied Ms Battles’s allegation that he said “I’m sick of ye” and said that “ye” is not a phrase in his day to day vocabulary. He said he was from a city in Northern Ireland where “ye” is not used.

Michael Healy Rae told the hearing that in or around last August he attended the home of Ms Battles to resolve matters following receipt of notification of the claim. He stated that he spoke with Ms Battles and sent a follow-up letter, however the matter remained unresolved.

However, Deputy Healy Rae’s attempt to resolve Ms Battles’s complaints was rejected by her - and she submitted an official complaint form to the WRC on August 27.

Deputy Healy Rae gave evidence during the one day WRC hearing into the case. He told the hearing that he was in business since 1990,and that the shop and tyre shop before it had many dealings with members of the Traveller Community and never had an issue.

Mr Healy Rae told the hearing that JS was known for being helpful, chatty and friendly with customers and Ms Battle’s description of his behaviour was not reflective of his character.

In her findings, WRC Adjudication Officer Úna Glazier-Farmer stated that she was satisfied “that I have not been presented with any evidence from which I could reasonably conclude that the complainant was treated less favourably on the grounds that she is a member of the Traveller Community and/or Race on May 20, 2019” at the Healy Rae store.

Ms Glazier Farmer also stated that no prima facie evidence has been made concerning the gender and disability claims. She stated: “Accordingly, the complainant’s claims must fail.”

Asked to comment on the outcome today, Deputy Healy Rae said: “I warmly welcome the ruling of the Workplace Relations Commission” and declined to comment any further on the case.

On dismissing the gender component of the claim, Ms Glazier Farmer stated that Ms Battles confirmed at the hearing of the case that the respondent did not make any comment or any action, discriminatory or otherwise, regarding her gender on the date of incident.

On throwing out the disability aspect, Ms Glazier Farmer stated that Ms Battles confirmed in her evidence that the respondent could not be aware that she had a disability on 20 May 2019.

Ms Glazier Farmer stated that Ms Battles further confirmed at the hearing that the respondent did not make any comment or any action, discriminatory or otherwise, regarding her disability.

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