Belfast Telegraph

Asian couple win racism case against Northern Ireland car dealer

Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission
Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

A couple who claimed they were racially harassed while buying a car from a Northern Ireland dealership have been awarded £2,500.

Kin Hung Wong, who is of Chinese descent, and his wife Ms Law, from Hong Kong, alleged they had encountered a "degrading" environment at John Mulholland Motors.

Mr Wong said he had been told to conduct a conversation with his wife in English and was left feeling "disrespected".

The couple took a case under the Race Relations Order and received the settlement after a hearing at the County Court, sitting in Antrim.

The company voiced disappointment with the ruling.

The issue arose when the couple agreed to buy a car from the business but then decided the trade-in price was too low and opted to sell their old car themselves.

Mr Wong went back to John Mulholland Motors on the agreed date to collect their new car.

Mr Wong's first language is English. His wife's first language is Cantonese. He conducted this business with Mulholland's in English throughout.

The price of the new car remained unchanged, but their balance payment was more because they were no longer trading their old car in.

As it was a joint purchase and a large amount of money, to make sure she fully understood the change and what they were signing up to, Mr Wong discussed it with Ms Law in Cantonese.

At this stage the couple were told several times by the sales staff to have their conversation in English.

The couple alleged that the salesperson believed incorrectly that Ms Law could understand the details if they were told to her in English, despite them explaining that she was unable to fully understand if they only used English to communicate.

Mr Wong found the way the sales staff dealt with them - asking them several times to speak only in English - was rude and aggressive and said there was no handshake upon completion.

Delivering his judgment, Judge Gilpin said that he was satisfied the way the sales staff had dealt with the couple had "created a degrading and humiliating environment".

Mr Wong said: "I felt we were treated very badly and were disrespected by the company.

"We were interrupted and told to speak English because we are in the UK.

"The atmosphere in which this transaction took place was strained and my wife was so distressed she was reduced to tears and no one apologised to her.

"I was unable to make a complaint to Mulholland's on the day because nobody senior was available. I'm glad that we won our case."

The couple's case was supported by the Equality Commission.

Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission, said: "The law says it is unlawful for a service provider to provide a service of a lower or worse standard to individuals on the grounds of their colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin."

John Mulholland Motors said it was disappointed with the court's findings and was giving further consideration to the judgment.

A spokesperson said: "The business has been trading for over 30 years and in that time has welcomed literally hundreds of thousands of visitors to our showrooms.

"John Mulholland Motors pride themselves in consistently delivering excellent customer service to customers from all backgrounds and nationalities in a welcoming environment.

"This is borne out by numerous industry awards. We are an equal opportunities employer and are proud to employ happy staff from a wide spectrum of backgrounds.

"This case, as funded by the Equality Commission, denotes the first time in the company's history that such a claim has been brought against the business, the outcome being £2,500 awarded for injury to feelings."

As a financially regulated business, the business manager has responsibility to ensure that customers fully understand all the financial implications of any proposed transaction, the firm added.

It continued: "We have procedures in place to support customers who do not have English as a first language and policies around how we recognise and accommodate all vulnerable customers."

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