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Luas justified in firing fares inspector who punched passenger following 'unacceptable' level of racist abuse

“Termination was the only option,” said Workplace Relations Commissioner adjudication officer Penelope McGrath.

4298945034_f65e1505d0_b Source: William Murphy

A LUAS FARES inspector subjected to an ‘unacceptable’ level of racial abuse by commuters on the tram service was sacked after he tried to punch a young man.

Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer Penelope McGrath said that she accepted that the fares inspector “was being subjected to an unacceptable level of racial and other abuse” on the evening of 24 August 2015.

McGrath said that “a cohort of the passengers were behaving in an appalling way”.

However, McGrath said that the difficulty from the fares inspector’s point of view is that he could provide no evidence to suggest that the male he is seen on CCTV throwing a punch at “was part of this general behaviour and even if he was, I cannot see how an employer can countenance an employee going on the offensive and throwing the first punch”.

She said that the Luas firm had no option but to dismiss the fares inspector and acted reasonably in sacking the man.

She said: “Termination was the only option.”

The man had brought an unfair dismissal action to the WRC but McGrath said that the CCTV footage of the incident “is objectively persuasive”.

She said: “Once an employee whose job it is to interface with the public every day has been shown to allow himself to get so riled up as to take a swing at a member of the public, the employer is bound to question the employee’s suitability to perform the job for which he has been trained.”

‘Worked hard’

The inspector had been employed with the Luas since 2008 where he worked hard and had done well with the firm before his sacking in November 2015 for gross misconduct as a result of the incident at Cowper station on Dublin’s south-side.

The dismissal letter told the fares inspector that he was sacked for engaging in actual or threatening physical violence against a passenger.

During his time with the Luas, the man had previously taken sick leave as a result of being assaulted by a passenger and was granted a line transfer on his return to work.

McGrath said that on the night of 24 August 2015 the Luas trams were filled with large numbers of young men fuelled up with alcohol and generally being difficult and disrespectful.

4908257357_e2d29bed1d_b Cowper Luas Stop Source: William Murphy

An employee with the Luas described to the youths as “acting the maggot” to the WRC hearing into the case.

In her report, McGrath stated that a significant number of these youngsters had no tickets but were disinclined to get off the tram and/or identify themselves when asked to do so by Revenue Protection Officers.

She said that the fares inspector and his colleagues had the unenviable task of challenging non-ticket holders for the purpose of issuing standard Fare Notices.

She added that there was no security to speak of and the gardaí were called. She said “It seems things were a bit chaotic” as there were ongoing and running difficulties with the train users and the train staff on the line and at the stations all the way into the city.

McGrath said that six statements taken from Luas employees show that “lads were being abusive and using foul language and racial slurs particularly pointed at the complainant”.

Drunkenness

In her findings, McGrath recorded that “the youths were in different states of drunkenness – they were abusive, disrespectful and were careless as to their own safety and the safety of others”.

She said that the fares inspector knew that this kind of abuse formed part of the overall abuse he might be subjected to “though it seems the racial element might have got to him on this particular evening”.

The inspector said that he had received a lot of conflict management training from his employer but that it was not enough in circumstances where he would be abused on an almost daily basis with racial abuse sometimes forming part of that onslaught.

McGrath said that she has watched the CCTV footage of the incident “over and over again” where the inspector is seen hustling the young male, referred to as Mr L, off a tram.

She said that she sees the inspector raise his right arm and take a swing.

McGrath said that she cannot be sure if there is a connection made while Mr L said that there was and that he was hit on the back of the head.

A colleague of the ticket inspector said that he heard the young male saying “Pakistani, you hit me’ or words to that effect, while Mr L categorically denied being racist.

Investigation

Mr L was with friends that evening and accepted that some of the people with whom he was travelling were not ticket holders and were asked to leave but that he did have a ticket.

Mr L had contacted the Luas firm the following day to complain about the incident and an investigation was launched.

McGrath said that the fares inspector gave evidence at the two-day hearing that he had felt intimidated and in fear for his life and that Mr L had gesticulated threats towards him.

She added that the fares inspector had not given this evidence at the investigation or disciplinary stage and “even if I did believe this account, and I have my doubts, I do not see how it can justify throwing the first punch albeit where contact is not certain”.

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About the author:

Gordon Deegan

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