Belfast Telegraph

'Inquiry needed into Equality Commission' in the wake of a failed legal action against shop owner

By Adrian Rutherford

An inquiry is needed into the running of the Equality Commission in the wake of a failed legal action against a shop owner, an MLA has said.

It follows claims that the publicly-funded body is squandering taxpayers' cash on "trophy cases".

Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed how a Bangor businessman was accused of racial discrimination after an Indian woman was told to leave his shop because she was rude.

Stuart Dawson said he was put through 14 months of hell before the case was finally thrown out.

DUP MLA Lord Morrow has now tabled Assembly questions to discover the cost to the public purse of mounting the action.

He accused the Equality Commission of chasing a cheap headline. "It seems, yet again, we are witnessing the bullying and oppression of a business, with no consideration for the creation of further victims through the stress of court proceedings, or the gross cost to the public," he said.

"The Equality Commission jumped on the bandwagon and sought to make a major headline, predominantly for themselves."

Mr Dawson's troubles began last September when the woman arrived at his O2 franchise shop, Ruscom Ltd, in Bangor for an appointment. When it emerged she was in the wrong store, she became impatient and bad-tempered, and was told to go.

However, the woman claimed that she had suffered racist and sexist discrimination.

Despite O2 finding no fault with how the incident was handled, the Equality Commission still took Mr Dawson to court.

It has since claimed it "considered it likely" that the woman had experienced racial discrimination.

However, Lord Morrow said the reasoning was "woeful".

He added: "It is not the role of any government-funded agency to decide whose rights supersede anyone else's, and when the Equality Commission take on such cases it is attempting to do that by their support.

"Public money was wasted in this matter at a time of huge austerity cuts. All it did was cause a businessman and his staff over a year of grief and unnecessary financial outlay."

Meanwhile, a second DUP MLA has said he will bring forward a private member's bill to introduce a "conscience clause" into aspects of equality law.

Paul Givan said he would launch a consultation on his bill, which he hoped would avoid legal actions similar to that in the Ashers 'gay cake' bakery case.

Mr Givan said: "This clause will enhance equality legislation. Equality is about ensuring that everybody in society is allowed to live out their lives."

Background

Stuart Dawson was taken to court after staff at his O2 franchise told an Indian woman to leave when she became ill-tempered. She alleged racist and sexist discrimination and complained to O2, who found no fault. However, it was taken up by the Equality Commission. At Newtownards County Court it was dismissed by a judge.

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