A State watchdog has dismissed a discrimination claim taken by a Co Meath woman who was asked to leave a branch of Specsavers during a Covid-19 mask row.
At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), adjudication officer Brian Dalton rejected Amanda Dobson’s discrimination claim against Mullingar Specsavers Ltd taken on the grounds of disability taken under the Equal Status Act.
Mr Dalton concluded that the operative reason for a Specsavers manager to request Ms Dobson – who was not wearing a mask – to leave its Mullingar store was Ms Dobson’s recording of the exchanges concerning the request to wear a mask, the manager’s right to her privacy and the possible posting of the recording on social media.
Ms Dobson told the hearing that she travelled from Oldcastle, Co Meath to Mullingar, Co Westmeath on January 20th this year for an eye test as there were no opticians in her village.
Ms Dobson told the hearing that she cannot wear a mask and has been certified by her doctor as being intolerant to wearing a mask.
As part of her discrimination claim, Ms Dobson said that matters became heated when she stated that she did not require a mask, and she was looking for her eyes to be tested as she wished to renew her driving licence.
Ms Dobson claimed that she was being treated in a disrespectful way and to show that this was so she started to record the interaction with the staff and manager of the shop.
Ms Dobson alleges that she was treated less favourably than others with no disability or a different disability and that the store’s refusal to see her that day interfered with the renewal of her licence.
The WRC report records that Ms Dobson renewed her driving licence on February 4th, 2021.
In his findings, Mr Dalton said Ms Dobson has not made out a prima facie case that she was discriminated against because of her disability.
Mr Dalton said the optician in fact was accommodating patients and new clients who had a reasonable excuse not to wear a mask with appointments.
He also concluded that Ms Dobson had not met the prima facie test concerning her claim of victimisation under the Act.
Mr Dalton said the manager had a legal duty to engage with her when she entered the store and to understand why she was not wearing a mask.
He said the reason Ms Dobson was asked to leave the shop related to her recording the manager who had concerns that she would post that footage on social media.
Mr Dalton said the optician operated a standard operating procedure to safely test patients or new clients who had no mask.
Mr Dalton said Ms Dobson was not victimised or discriminated against.
In his findings, Mr Dalton further stated that the manager was fulfilling a legal obligation when she engaged with Ms Dobson to inform her of the requirement to wear a mask in the shop.
He said Ms Dobson relied upon a reasonable excuse to explain why she was not wearing a mask.
Recording of the incident
As part of its evidence before the hearing, the store manager said this was not a case of refusing to facilitate or accommodate Ms Dobson to have an eye test on the day.
The store manager said it must be remembered that in January 2021 the pandemic was most virulent and Covid infection numbers had grown exponentially, and it would have been irresponsible not to ask Ms Dobson why she was not wearing a mask.
The store manager said the request about the mask immediately led to Ms Dobson recording the interaction between staff and her and also allegedly threatening to post the recording on social media.
The store manager said it was this action that led her to ask Ms Dobson to leave the store, as other patients/customers were in the shop and the exchanges between Ms Dobson and staff had escalated.