As a service provider, what steps must you take to ensure that you do not unlawfully discriminate against a potential customer?

This was a point that was recently considered by the County Court sitting in Antrim.

The Plaintiffs were a man, of Chinese descent, and his wife, who was from Hong Kong.  His first language was English.  Her first language was Cantonese.  

The couple agreed to buy a car from the Defendant. In the course of negotiations, the husband explained the detail to his wife in her native tongue. At this stage, the couple were told several times by the sales staff to have their conversation in English. The husband found the way the sales staff dealt with them, asking them several times to speak only in English, was rude and aggressive.

Under the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 it is unlawful for a service provider to provide a service of a lower or worse standard to individuals on the grounds of their colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin.

The Judge, in giving judgement for the couple, said that he was satisfied that the way the sales staff had dealt with the couple had ‘created a degrading and humiliating environment’.  The Defendant was ordered to pay damages of £2,500.

The case was brought with the support of the Equality Commission who stressed 

…it is important to remember that in matters of service provision, employers may be held liable for the discriminatory impact of the actions of their staff. It’s vital that they have equal opportunities policies in place and that all staff are familiar with them and know what is expected of them.

What steps has your business taken to ensure that you comply with your equality obligations?

By Paul Sullivan FRSA

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