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Cork barber fined €2,000 for refusing to cut the hair of teenager with cerebral palsy

The Workplace Relations Commission found that the barber discriminated against 13-year-old wheelchair-user Thomas Bermingham on grounds of disability.

shutterstock_653273731 File photo Source: Shutterstock/Reis Photography

A CORK CITY-BASED Turkish barber has been ordered to pay €2,000 for refusing to cut the hair of a teen with mild cerebral palsy.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has found that the barber discriminated against 13-year-old wheelchair-user Thomas Bermingham on grounds of disability under the Equal Status Acts when refusing to cut his hair in March of last year.

The boy’s mother, Mary Bermingham took the case on her son’s behalf and she expressed her delight at the decision.

“I am delighted. The outcome could not be better. All I ever wanted was an apology from the barber. It was never about the money,” she said.

She added that it was ‘ridiculous carry-on’ by the barber to refuse to cut her son’s hair.

“Everyone loves Thomas and he shouldn’t be put down because of his disability.”

Bermingham – who represented herself at the hearing – said that Thomas was upset on the day but was very happy to hear of the WRC ruling.

Therapies

She said that she wouldn’t hold her breath on receiving the €2,000 from the barber, but if she does receive it, she said that it will be spent on therapies for Thomas.

In the case, Bermingham told the WRC that she visited the barber’s on 31 March 2016 with Thomas and his two sisters, aged seven and nine.

She said that the shop was empty and that she heard the barber say “I can’t cut that” in response to her son who was sitting in his wheelchair.

She said that she told the barber, Mr B, that her son could get out of the wheelchair. She said she was instead asked to leave the shop, with Mr B holding the door open for her.

The teen subsequently got his haircut at another barber shop two doors down. Later, Bermingham returned to the Turkish barber’s and asked Mr B whether he had refused her son a haircut because he was sitting in a wheelchair.

She was told by Mr B to “come back when the Boss is here”. She asked for the boss’s name but was informed that Mr B was in charge.

Bermingham told the WRC that she understood that her son was entitled to receive a haircut and that it was a disgrace that he was refused.

She later aired her grievance over the episode on local Cork radio.

A protest took place outside the barber shop in July 2016 and Mr B told the hearing that the publicity from Birmingham’s complaint impacted very badly on his business, which he had sold the business on 7 November 2016 for in or around the same price he paid for the lease.

Threatened

Mr B said that he felt threatened by the media exposure and had difficulties in communicating through English, which prevented him giving his side of the story to the media.

Giving a completely different account of what occurred, Mr B said that he attempted to cut the boy’s hair while sitting on the wheelchair but the teen was upset.

Mr B submitted that he had cut some of the complainant’s son’s hair.

The barber believed that he had made a genuine effort at reasonably accommodating Bermingham’s son.

Mr B argued that he had not refused a haircut and had instead offered a temporary suspension of it accompanied by an offer of a return to the shop to continue the cut. The claim of discrimination was denied as being unfounded.

In her findings, Adjudication Officer Patsy Doyle found that the media had a very large influence for both parties on the evolution of events after 31 March 2016.

Consistent

Doyle said that she found Bermingham “to be very consistent and compelling in her evidence regarding the alleged refusal to undertake the requested hair cut”.

“It was clear that the event was very distressing,” she said.

“I have found that the complainant was refused a hair cut in the manner submitted. I found it regrettable that the respondent did not engage in a positive customer relations manner on the complainant’s subsequent two visits to the shop on the same day.”

Doyle said that she had not found a consistency in Mr B’s evidence at the hearing.

Making the €2,000 compensation award to Bermingham, Doyle recommended that prior to undertaking another business venture Mr B should take an approved course covering Irish Equality Legislation.

She said: “The purpose of this is to promote an understanding that the access to goods and services enjoyed by persons with disabilities should mirror those enjoyed by all of society.”

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Gordon Deegan

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