discrimination | 

Taxi driver who was called n-word by Galway petrol station worker awarded €7,500

Mr Asari said that the attendant would not unlock the pump for him – and he was left waiting as other customers “came and went”

Stock image© Getty Images/iStockphoto

Stephen BourkeIndependent.ie

A taxi driver who said he was refused diesel and was called the n-word over a series of late-night visits to a Galway filling station is to receive €7,500 for discrimination.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), which heard the man’s complaint, found that the company's response likely pointed to an “attitude of inherent racism”.

In a decision published this morning, the WRC found Daniel Asari had been subjected to a “pattern of humiliating treatment” by the attendant at the Sweeney Oil filling station on the Headford Road in Galway city over two nights in March and April last year.

The tribunal added that the company’s “response, or the lack of one” when Mr Asari wrote to them about the matter indicated an “attitude of unimportance” on the part of the company – as it had failed to fully investigate what happened or reply to his complaints.

“On the balance of probabilities, that indifference and neglect in the handling of the complaints and the failure to respond to the ES1 [statutory complaint form], represents an attitude of inherent racism," wrote the adjudicating officer who heard the case.

The WRC upheld Mr Asari’s complaint against XYZ Retail Ltd under the Equal Status Act 2000 and directed the company to bring in a complaints policy, train up its managers and amend its policies to state that “any acts of discrimination” by workers could lead to their sacking.

Mr Asari told the tribunal in evidence last month that the attendant – identified only as Mr P in today’s decision – would not unlock the diesel pump for him on the nights in question – and he was left waiting half an hour on the first night as other customers “came and went”.

The tribunal was told its usual policy requiring prepayment for fuel at night made an exception for taxi drivers, with Mr Asari stating that he was a regular at the location.

Mr Asari said he went to the service station again two nights after the first incident, finding the same attendant on duty and the pump locked again.

“I approached to ask him to allow me to fill the tank. He was using his phone camera to film me…calling me names, n***** and stuff,” Mr Asari said.

“He threatened to meet me in court, names calling, the n-word and all of that,” he added.

“Is that that particular racial slur?” asked adjudicating officer Janet Hughes.

“Yes. I was called that name, I think, because of my colour,” said Mr Asari.

The petrol station’s position was that on the second night, when it was alleged the racial slur was used, Mr Asari had asked for a sandwich to be made up from the deli counter.

Sweeney Oil group retail manager Liam Killeen, who appeared to defend the case, asked Mr Asari whether a sandwich order had caused a row.

“There was no altercation, no issue with a sandwich or any other item,” Mr Asari said, but went on to add: “I didn’t ask for a sandwich to be made. I asked for a sandwich already made.”

Mr Killeen said in a submission that having viewed CCTV of the incident, he could see that the employee was “animated” and that Mr Asari had his mobile phone out and was making “hand movements”.

However, he told the tribunal at hearing that he had been unable to locate the footage.

The complainant’s solicitor Deirdre Sharkey said that if her client were an Irish or white person, "he wouldn’t have been treated in that manner".

“Everyone who comes to our shop is a customer. We strongly deny we refused to serve this man on the grounds of creed or race,” Mr Killeen told the tribunal.

In her decision, Janet Hughes, the adjudicating officer, wrote that she was satisfied Mr Asari “did engage actively in a dispute with Mr P on the second night” – and that the complainant had “omitted to mention” any issue about a sandwich until it was put to him in cross-examination.

She said the complainant had been “somewhat evasive” on that point but wrote that she was satisfied the discrimination on the second night was the “racist language used by [Mr] P and not any unjustified refusal of service on race grounds”.

“This does not mean that racist abusive language towards Mr Asari by P can be justified or was not discriminatory,” she wrote – noting elsewhere that Mr Asari’s evidence had been “consistent”.

She made an order for the payment of €7,500 in compensation to Mr Asari against the operating company, writing that the order took into consideration what she considered a “pattern of humiliating treatment of Mr Asari by the former employee compounded by the respondent’s response, which is also found to be discriminatory and for which [it] is directly liable”.

“The manner in which the respondent dealt with the complaint and the repeated failures to reply to those complaints, infer an attitude of unimportance attaching to Mr Asari’s complaints which he had taken great care to bring to [the firm’s] attention, repeatedly and in detail. On the balance of probabilities, that indifference and neglect in the handling of the complaints and the failure to respond to the ES1 [statutory complaint form], represents an attitude of inherent racism," wrote Ms Hughes.

Ms Hughes made further orders that the company amend its staff policies to cover discrimination within three months, set up a complaints procedure, and provide training to management and supervisors in the area.

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