Sunday 26 January 2020

Traveller woman loses discrimination case over cash row in Healy-Rae shop

TD Michael Healy-Rae. Photo: Tom Burke
TD Michael Healy-Rae. Photo: Tom Burke

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 had 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 Independent Kerry TD's Black Cap & Company Ltd - trading as the 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 had handed in a €50 note, and JS stated that she had handed in a €20.

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During the interaction with Ms Battles, 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 to "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 toward her.

As part of her Traveller discrimination claim, Ms Battles claimed that JS told her "I'm sick of ye" during the transaction and she understood the use of the word "ye" meant a member of the Traveller community.

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

JS denied Ms Battles' allegation that he said "I'm sick of ye", adding that "ye" was 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 around last August he attended Ms Battles' home to resolve matters. He stated that he spoke with Ms Battles and sent a follow-up letter.

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

Mr Healy-Rae gave evidence during the one-day WRC hearing into the case. He said he had been in business since 1990, and that the store and tyre shop before it had many dealings with members of the Traveller community and never had an issue.

The TD told the hearing that JS was known for being helpful, chatty and friendly with customers and Ms Battles' 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 had been made concerning the gender and disability claims. "Accordingly, the complainant's claims must fail," she added.

Asked to comment on the outcome yesterday, Mr Healy-Rae said: "I warmly welcome the ruling of the Workplace Relations Commission."

He declined to comment any further on the case.

Irish Independent

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