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front row seats

Gardaí called to Finding Dory screening after family refused to move seats

The family claimed they were discriminated against under the Equal Status Act.

GARDAÍ WERE CALLED to a screening of Disney children’s movie Finding Dory when it had to be abandoned after a family refused to move from plush, premium recliner seats in the front row of a cinema.

The family were asked by an attendant to move to nearby seats on the front row and details of the incident are recorded in an unsuccessful discrimination case subsequently taken by the family against the cinema in question.

The family claimed they were discriminated against on the grounds of family status under the Equal Status Act as they were not provided with accommodation for a child’s buggy.

However, Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer Pat Brady is highly critical of the family’s actions and has dismissed the claim as “vexatious and without any merit whatsoever”.

In the case, the family went to the cinema in question on Sunday morning, 13 November 2016 to see Finding Dory.

The family bought standard ‘mini-morning’ tickets and were told they could sit anywhere they wished as there were only four other people in the cinema. The family then occupied premium recliner seats in the front row which were each €5 more expensive.

In his report, Brady said: “It is hard to blame the family for sitting in them, but it is harder to believe that they really believed that the rather generalised advice that they could ‘sit anywhere’ included these seats. Perhaps they did.”

The family were asked by an attendant to move to other seats along the front row or pay the additional €5 per seat. The family refused to move from the seats and, when they failed to do so, the screening was halted.

‘Loud and abusive’

According to a cinema representative at a hearing into the case, the father “became loud and abusive and demanded a refund including for part-consumed food”.

The other cinemagoers were brought to a different screen to see Finding Dory, and the loud and abusive behaviour continued and gardaí were called. The mother said the family left the cinema “feeling embarrassment and humiliation”.

The cinema stated that there was no discriminating treatment and that the reason the family were asked to move was because they had bought the wrong tickets.

Brady said it is “extraordinary” that, on being advised of the position, the family refused to move “and proceeded to cause something of a fracas in the cinema resulting in disruption to other patrons”.

Brady stated that the mother “was being asked to move a matter of a couple of metres horizontally to accommodation quite suitable for a family”. He noted that when asked at the hearing why she did not do so, the mother said it was “a matter of principle”.

‘Moral principles’

Brady said that a matter of principle is variously defined as “something you feel you must do (or not do) because of your moral principles”.

He remarked: “It is hard to see an application of ‘moral principles’ to where one might sit on a Sunday morning in a cinema watching Finding Dory.”

There were further insights into the complainant’s attitude when she described her ‘embarrassment and humiliation’ on leaving the cinema. She and her family had the simplest of remedies for avoiding this humiliation had they been less obdurate about where they sat.

Brady continued: “But it is even harder to see how the respondent’s (cinema’s) actions might come remotely close to a breach of the Equal Status Act.”

He pointed out that the Act requires that there be ‘less favourable treatment’ of the complainant on the relevant grounds.

He said that the cinema “requested the complainant to move a short distance that barely required her and her family to stand up to do so. She would have remained in the front row and the reason for doing so was because she had not bought the correct ticket, not because of her family status”.

Brady stated that the cinema firm may have mistakenly assumed that it would have been obvious to the average customer that being told to ‘sit anywhere’ did not include the premium seats and it should be more careful in this regard.

He said: “But its failure to do so comes nowhere remotely close to grounding the complainant’s case, which is vexatious and has no merit whatsoever.”

Read: ‘Not good enough’: Family of woman shot by garda killer says GSOC is not properly resourced

Read: Social workers have to develop skills to deal with allegations of historical abuse ‘on the hoof’

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