JD Wetherspoon found guilty of Discriminating against Customers
In what is becoming an increasing occurrence, the Courts have recently found against a business (this time a JD Wetherspoon pub) for discriminating against its customers by refusing to admit individuals of Irish Traveller and Romani Gypsy ethnic origin.
Under the Equality Act 2010, discrimination occurs where a service-provider concerned with the provision of a service to the public or a section of the public (for payment or not) discriminates against a person requiring the service by not providing the person with the service (section 29(1), EA 2010).
The background to the matter is that “Traveller Movement”, a charitable company, was holding its annual conference in a conference centre close to a pub in Holloway, North London. The pub accordingly engaged additional security staff, allegedly to exclude “large groups” of individuals in order to avoid trouble. Following various refusals of entry from the pub over the period in question, this policy was later called into question following conflicting evidence as to what the pub deemed to be a “large group”.
Both Traveller Movement and the individuals that were refused entry alleged that the pub’s refusal to admit and serve them amounted to direct discrimination (and associative discrimination for those accompanying the individuals) in the provision of services. They claimed for aggravated damages, injury to feelings and harrasment.
The Court’s decision
The Courts found against the pub and, in an interesting reading of the Interpretation Act 1978, held that Traveller Movement, despite being a corporation, could be considered a “person” capable of being discriminated against for the purposes of the EA 2010. It was not, however, deemed appropriate that Traveller Movement should be awarded damages for injury to feelings.
Therefore, the Court held that both Traveller Movement and the individuals of Romani Gypsy and Irish Traveller ethnic origin had been directly discriminated against and the individuals, but not the limited company, were each entitled to £3,000 each for injury to feelings.
The individuals accompanying the Romani Gypsy and Irish Traveller individuals were also found to have suffered associative discrimination. The allegations of harrassment were dismissed for lack of evidence.
This case is interesting in many ways – not only is it yet another example of a business being found guilty of discrimination in respect of its customers, but the Judge provided useful guidance on the ability of corporations to take action in respect of discrimination, albeit in limited circumstances.
It is fundamental for businesses to have in place anti-discrimination policies, both internally within the workplace, but also externally for the business’ customers. Failure to do so can have significant financial consequences and can lead to unwelcome publicity and disruption to the business.
For further information on this case or for advice on your policies and procedures, please contact Commercial & Dispute Resolution Partner, Matthew Howat, on 020 7884 9700.
Traveller Movement and others v JD Wetherspoon Plc  2CL01225)