Poppy refusal discrimination
A FORMER police officer denied entry to a Belfast bar for wearing a poppy suffered discrimination, a court has ruled.
Ted Cooke won a declaration that the former owners of the Northern Whig acted unlawfully on the basis of his religious belief and political opinion.
Backed by the Equality Commission, Mr Cooke brought a case after being turned away from the city centre premises last November.
He was with his wife and daughter when door staff refused to let them in because they were wearing remembrance poppies.
He issued proceedings against Botanic Inns Ltd, the pub chain which owned the Northern Whig at the time.
With the company having since gone into administration, Mr Cooke dropped his claim for damages.
But his lawyers argued at Belfast County Court that being turned away from the bar constituted indirect discrimination.
It was contended that the poppy is an emblem worn predominantly by the unionist or Protestant community.
The actions of the door staff responsible were discriminatory under the Fair Employment and Treatment Order, according to his case.
In his ruling the Recorder for Belfast, Judge David McFarland, held that denying entry and a meal indirectly discriminated against Mr Cooke.
"The defendant company has not sought to put forward an adequate explanation for its conduct nor has it attempted to prove that it did not commit or is not to be treated as having committed the unlawful act.
"In the circumstances the plaintiff is entitled to his declaration that the defendant company committed an unlawful act by virtue of the indirect discrimination against him on the grounds of his religious belief and political opinion."
Mr Cooke was awarded legal costs and a token £1 in damages.
Following the verdict he said he brought the case to challenge the idea that the poppy should be treated as a sectarian symbol.
"I was angered and embarrassed by the incident," he said.
"I was going in with my wife and daughter to have lunch on a Saturday afternoon shopping trip.
"The doorman told us we could not go in as we were wearing poppies and we were so shocked we just turned and went out."
Eileen Lavery, head of advice and compliance at the Equality Commission, said it had assisted Mr Cooke in the challenge because it believed barring him from the premises in these circumstances was unlawful discrimination on grounds of religious belief or political opinion.
"The poppy, although not directly linked to a specific religious belief or political opinion, would historically have been associated to a greater extent with the Protestant or unionist community in Northern Ireland," she said.
"In our guidance to employers, the commission makes it clear that the wearing of poppies, in a respectful manner and within the appropriate period, should not be regarded as something which would cause offence."