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'A huge victory' - Transgender man awarded €5,000 compensation from barber who refused to cut his hair

Lee McLoughlin said he was refused a hair cut after a barber mistakenly believed he was a woman.

Updated Jul 26th 2018, 10:57 PM

IMG_20171101_131153_075 Lee McLoughlin

A DUBLIN BARBER has been ordered to pay €5,000 to a transgender man after it was found to have discriminated against him by refusing to give him “a short back and sides”.

Speaking after the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruling, Lee McLoughlin said he was “absolutely thrilled” with the outcome.

“It is a huge victory for all transgender people and is the best outcome I could have wished for,” he said.

McLoughlin had told the WRC that he asked to have his hair cut at Charlie’s Barbers on 24 September last, but the barber, mistakenly believing he was a woman, refused.

He told the barber that he just wanted a “short back and sides” but that the barber replied “we don’t cut ladies hair, I’m sorry”.

McLoughlin said that he then told the barber that he was a transgender man.

He alleged that the barber proceeded to shake his head and said: “I am sorry, we can’t cut ladies’ hair. It’s a contract that we have with another hairdresser around the corner, so if we cut a woman’s hair, we will be fined.”

Embarrassment

McLoughlin had arrived at the barbers at 1.05pm, and proceeded to take a seat with a number of other men queuing, waiting 25 minutes before it was his turn.

He told the WRC hearing that the comments by the barber were uttered in front of a number of customers, caused huge embarrassment and distress to him, and that he left the premises “in shock”.

McLoughlin said that the incident has greatly affected him and caused him stress, shame and embarrassment.

He claimed that he was discriminated against under the Equal Status Act by Charlie’s Barbers on the grounds of gender when he was refused a haircut.

The WRC upheld his claim, with adjudication officer Gerard McMahon ordering the respondent in the case, Paula Smith of Charlie’s Barbers, to pay out €5,000 to him.

Emergency counselling

McMahon concluded: “On the balance of the evidence presented … I conclude that the complainant was treated differently because he was transgender when he was refused a haircut by the respondent.

“This amounts to discrimination on the grounds of gender.”

When questioned at the WRC hearing as to what might have led the barber to take the stance that he did, McLoughlin responded that he was “not sure” as he “was dressed as a male” and was trying his “best to appear male”.

McLoughlin said that the refusal by the barber necessitated an emergency counselling session.

When asked about redress at hearing, McLoughlin responded that the case “was not about money”.

He explained it was about the principle and the precedent set on behalf of those who might find themselves in a similar scenario in the future.

The barbers apologised for the incident and noted that action had been taken to prevent a recurrence.

One-off mistake

In its defence, the barbers stated that the barber in question did not recall McLoughlin saying that he was transgender or a trans man until he was leaving the premises.

The barbers stated that the barber in question had no training in cutting ladies’ hair and had never done so before.

The barbers also told the WRC that the barber in question was told when starting his job that the business lease prohibited the shop from cutting women’s hair.

The barbers stated that the barber in question did not mean to offend McLoughlin, and believed that he was performing his role correctly and protecting his employer.

Solicitors for the barbers contended that a “one-off mistake” did not amount to discrimination.

The barbers said that it had put in place a policy to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

The barber told the hearing that he did “not intend to treat the complainant in a less favourable manner, as [he] would treat all women in the same manner”.

He added that his misunderstanding or misperception of the gender identity of the complainant was an honest mistake.

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About the author:

Gordon Deegan

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