Five girls claim they faced discrimination in Iceland for being members of the Traveler Community

A group of five young women say they faced discrimination for being members of the Traveler Community when told to leave an Icelandic supermarket in Finglas without explanation.

The women and girls, aged between three and 21, have all lodged complaints against Iceland Foods (Ireland) Ltd under the Equality Act over an incident at the store on 27 November 2020.

They cite race and membership of the traveling community as alleged grounds of discrimination, which Iceland denies.

Her attorney, Christopher McCann of the Free Legal Advice Center (FLAC), told the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) on Tuesday that she would hear evidence the security guard went off to find the assistant manager “within seconds”, as his customers walked through the door.

“The assistant manager and security guard then asked her to leave the store in front of other customers. In spite of [being asked] for a reason neither has given a reason for,” he said – adding his clients had done nothing that could “objectively justify” him being asked to leave.

His customers were “confused and embarrassed” at being evicted from the store and felt there was “clear implication that they were involved in some wrongdoing” – but followed the workers’ direction and left the premises.

Megan McDonnell, the group’s elder, told the tribunal that young Traveler girls tended to have a “similar appearance”, including long hair, clothing and jewellery, adding that their accent also identifies them as members of the community .

“We’ve all spoken [approaching the door] and I think the guard heard our accent, too,” she said.

Ms McDonnell said when she asked the assistant manager for an explanation as to why he had told them to leave, he told her: “I don’t have to give you a reason. You have to leave the store.”

She said no other customers were asked to leave the store at the same time.

“I felt like I did something wrong. I felt like I did something I didn’t do,” she said.

Ms McDonnell was questioned by Elizabeth-Jane Walsh BL, who appeared for the supermarket chain on instructions from Michael Heslin of Miley & Miley LLP.

She explained to the applicant that, although she had identified long hair and jewelery as identifying marks for her and her companions as members of the Travelers, a group of three women who left the shop shortly before them were not prevented from shopping.

“I think our heavy accent also identified us,” Ms. McDonnell said.

“We’ve been from Dublin all our lives and we don’t have the slightest hint of a Dublin accent,” she said.

“You had no verbal interaction with the security guard, so the way you spoke is really not relevant,” the attorney said.

“I think he heard us walking up to the store talking and laughing,” Ms McDonnell replied.

The applicant admitted that before and since the incident she had been shopping with her mother in Iceland without any problems.

“And you’re sure you don’t know why? Had anything happened before that?” asked the lawyer.

“Not in this shop,” Ms McDonnell said, adding that she had been “followed around” in other shops in the past because she was “easily identifiable” as a traveller.

“Is there no other reason why you were being followed?” Ms Walsh asked. “No,” Mrs. McDonnell replied.

Ms Walsh said her side faced a “deficit of evidence” in defending the case.

She told the court that the assistant manager who spoke to the girls had been fired from the supermarket over a year and a half earlier for reasons unrelated to the complaints at hand.

Ms Walsh added that the security guard, an employee of a contractor who was not involved in the complaints, was also unavailable because he was “involved in a traffic accident involving a bus last week”.

The sentencing officer, Brian Dalton, said it was within his power to summon the assistant manager to testify, but Ms Walsh said her client would “prefer closure on this matter” and would not seek an adjournment.

John Moran, the supermarket chain’s Dublin area manager, said all of their employees were given a staff handbook outlining the company’s anti-discrimination policy, which specifically spelled out discrimination against members of the Traveling Community.

He said managers are “100 percent familiar” with it and that members of the traveling community can shop at any of their stores during their trading hours.

“Are members of the Traveling Community regular customers?” Mrs. Walsh asked him.

‘Yes, absolutely,’ said Mr Moran.

On behalf of the complainant, Mr McCann asked Mr Moran how he knew that members of the community had shopped in his shops.

“I can only assume so – it’s open to the public,” the division head replied, adding, “Some people tell us, ‘I’m a traveler.'”

Mr McCann told Mr Moran that an effective policy should inform a store manager “how they identify a traveler” to avoid discriminatory treatment. ‘Not necessarily,’ said Mr Moran.

He said a member of the Traveling Community could “possibly” be identified by their voice or accent, but not by visual characteristics.

“In circumstances where no reason for my client’s eviction from the supermarket has been demonstrated and where there is clear evidence of easy identification [as a member of the Travelling Community] … I say the burden has shifted to the respondent,” Mr McCann said in his closing argument.

“In the absence of factual reason, I would say that the defendant failed to meet the burden of proof,” he added.

He said the question of who employed the security guard was debatable as he was “clearly under the deputy manager’s control and doing Iceland’s bidding”.

Ms Walsh said Ms McDonnell accepted that other members of the travel community came to Iceland to shop.

“It is not a question of politics that travelers are not allowed. Megan [McDonnell] shopped there and continues to shop there,” she submitted.

The tribunal had previously heard that the security officer was a Polish national and Ms Walsh said the sentencing officer should “official point out that a non-Irish person would not be able to identify a member of the traveling community”. .

Four of the complaints in the series were heard in full yesterday (Tuesday), with the fifth adjourned.

Decisions on the five claims are expected in due course.

https://www.independent.ie/news/five-girls-claim-they-were-discriminated-against-at-iceland-for-being-members-of-the-traveller-community-41968502.html Five girls claim they faced discrimination in Iceland for being members of the Traveler Community

Fry Electronics Team

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