“Some of them were real freaking weirdos” – only 5 per cent of discrimination claims against face masks succeed

So far, only three people have won discrimination lawsuits over the Covid-19 face mask rules – a success rate of just over 5 per cent.

The Workplace Relations Commission has rejected 53 out of 56 complaints made under the Equal Status Act 2000 and the Employment Equality Act on disability grounds by individuals who allege they were denied goods, services or reasonable accommodation because they did not wear a face covering could wear.

Many more such lawsuits are expected to await either a ruling or a hearing after 2021 saw 298 percent of disability complaints filed by customers and members of the public against businesses and other service providers.

A health clinic, supermarket and hotel have been awarded damages totaling €4,500 this year after the owners either accepted discrimination, failed to provide witnesses or evidence to contradict the complainant’s evidence, or failed to appear to defend themselves had.

The earliest prize of €500 was awarded against the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street in Dublin, which was forced to pay the sum to James Oliver Tattan after he was upset and embarrassed at a doorman’s insistence that he put on a face mask in December 2020.

The WRC accepted his evidence that the porter refused to see a medical letter confirming Mr Tattan’s disability in the absence of conflicting evidence from the hotel – which told the commission the porter had since returned to his home country and that the CCTV footage there was overwritten.

The biggest award, €3,000, was given against an unidentified medical clinic that accepted discrimination against an autistic patient who said he would be “desperate” if he had to wear a mask in December 2020.

Despite previously assuring there would be no problem, the court heard he was turned away when he came in for a scan because he was “unable to wear a face covering”.

The court was told that there had been “miscommunication between staff” regarding the mask policy because of the “intense pressure” at the time – with the sentencing officer writing that the clinic “actually admitted that it did not adequately accommodate the complainant.” “. .

A third prize of €1,000 was awarded to a supermarket that did not enter a defense.

Another mask-related claim is understood to have been settled before the hearing for an undisclosed sum.

Claims went to full hearing and were usually pursued by lay processionaries.

“I would have been wary of taking on cases. Some of them were real freaking nutcases,” a legal source said, adding that some of the potential applicants who approached him were “a bit ideologically motivated.”

He said he has “sincere sympathy” for others.

“If you look at the success rate, they seem to be having an uphill battle,” he said of the complainants. “If you were to contact a lawyer, you will not get far with 3,000 euros in compensation,” he said of the highest award received.

Another legal source said that one difficulty owners of retail and hospitality businesses faced in defending claims was getting workers who had left employment in the high-volume sectors to come and tell their side of the story.

Most of the complaints were heard more than a year after the events leading up to the alleged discrimination.

Political activist Ben Gilroy lost his case against Decathlon Sports Ireland Ltd after a hearing some 21 months after what he called a “heated” exchange about mask regulations at his shop in Ballymun, Dublin 12 August 2020.

He had told the shop – which denied discrimination – that he was “exempted” from the rules and claimed he was “physically disabled” and short of breath after suffering a heart attack in 2015.

A sentencing officer noted that Mr Gilroy “had presented no medical evidence to support this [Decathlon] at the relevant time’ and ‘was not discriminated against’.

Mr Gilroy said in a statement that the WRC was “a complete waste of time when it comes to being discriminated against because of medical issues”.

In the course of hearing the cases, the WRC heard evidence of often tense exchanges between staff and those making the claims, with the interactions often being recorded by the complainants on their mobile phones.

At the hearing, shop and hospitality workers repeatedly expressed concerns about the prospect of contracting Covid-19 at work and passing it on to their families.

A store worker told the court that a cashier refused to serve an applicant because he was not wearing a mask and because she was afraid for her vulnerable father, in a lawsuit against a Belmullet hardware store over an incident in spring 2021.

This was just eight weeks after the Co Mayo district had the highest rate of Covid-19 infections in the country.

“He said he wouldn’t wear a mask and they were all brainwashed. The other clerk replied, “Well, if that’s the case, we’re all being brainwashed, and if we’re all being brainwashed, so am I, and neither will I serve you,” the witness added.

Another plaintiff heard by the tribunal walked into a West Cork supermarket with a yellow Star of David in January 2021 while recording the incident and admitted on hearing he “regretted” his comments to a manager who asked him to dress up.

“That’s why I have this yellow star on it, because it’s fascism,” the complainant was heard saying on the recording he submitted to the WRC.

Complainants often refused to disclose the medical basis for their alleged disability status – either during company interactions or at their WRC hearings – and had them turned down on the grounds that they could not show they belonged to a protected category.

One plaintiff called it “absolutely disgraceful” that the WRC insisted that he make medical evidence of his alleged disability available to a public hearing.

“If you tell me your medical history, I’ll tell you mine,” the complainant told a lawyer representing retailer Heatons.

“Have you had gonorrhea in your life? Do you see where I’m going?” asked the complainant.

The official in charge of the case found that the defendant was “right” to object to her looking at his medical records without opening them and dismissed the claim.

In another case, the tribunal refused to accept an exemption from an applicant which it believed had been issued by Derry GP Dr. Anne McCloskey had been signed.

“You live in Longford – is there a reason you’re going north to a GP?” the assessing officer asked the man at a hearing in June.

“I travel all over the place and a lot of GPs wouldn’t give letters here. It doesn’t matter what excuse you had,” the complainant replied.

In a decision issued in October, the judge found that Dr. McCloskey “had been suspended for 18 months pending an investigation into allegations of Covid-19 misinformation,” the judge said the note “complained on the applicant’s credibility” and dismissed his claim.

In July, the WRC’s annual report for 2021 revealed that in 572 claims made under the Equal Status Act that year, 362 complainants cited disability as a ground for discrimination. The corresponding number in 2020 was 91, which was a record at the time since the WRC began providing the data in its annual reports.

A source familiar with the situation said the 2021 spike was “all mask-related” – describing it as a “mountain” of complaints.

In contrast, the comparative increase in allegations of discrimination based on disability in the workplace under the Employment Equality Act 1998 was only 11 per cent.

So far, six lawsuits have been decided under the Equal Opportunities Act and 51 under the Equal Opportunities Act.

https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/some-of-them-were-genuine-bloody-cranks-just-5pc-of-face-mask-discrimination-claims-succeed-42240876.html “Some of them were real freaking weirdos” – only 5 per cent of discrimination claims against face masks succeed

Fry Electronics Team

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