Northern Ireland

Racially harassed couple awarded £2,500

Equality Commission
Image caption Mr Wong's case was taken with the support of the Equality Commission.

A couple has been awarded £2,500 from a car sales company after claiming they were racially harassed by sales staff at the firm for speaking in Cantonese.

Kin Hung Wong and his wife Ms Law took the case against John Mulholland Motors.

The couple was told by staff to discuss the purchase in English, despite explaining that Ms Law would not fully understand.

The judge ruled the firm had "created a degrading and humiliating environment".

The case was taken with the support of the Equality Commission.

In a statement, John Mulholland Motors said it was disappointed by the court's findings, and added that the company consistently delivered "excellent customer service to customers from all backgrounds and nationalities in a welcoming environment".

Mr Wong is of Chinese descent and speaks English as his first language.

However, his wife, who is a Hong Kong national, speaks Cantonese as her first language.

While conducting business with Mulholland's, Mr Wong spoke English.

The couple initially agreed to buy a car from John Mulholland Motors, but subsequently decided the trade-in price was too low.

They then decided to sell their car themselves following advice from the sales team.

Mr Wong returned to the company and agreed a date to collect the couple's new car.

The price of the car remained unchanged, but the balance the couple had to pay was greater as they were no longer trading in their old car.

Mr Wong discussed the joint purchase with his wife in Cantonese to ensure she fully understood the change in payment, and what they were signing up to.

Image caption Dr Michael Wardlow is Chief Commissioner for the Equality Commission

At this point, the couple was told by sales staff to have their conversation in English, despite explaining that Ms Law was unable to fully understand if they only used English to communicate.

The couple alleged that the sales person believed incorrectly that Ms Law could understand the details in English.

After being asked several times to speak only in English and having no handshake upon completion of the deal, Mr Wong said he felt sales staff had been rude and aggressive.

'Reduced to tears'

The judge ruled that the way sales staff had dealt with the couple had "created a degrading and humiliating environment".

Reacting to the ruling, Mr Wong said: "I felt we were treated very badly and were disrespected by the company.

"We were interrupted and told to speak English because we are in the UK," he added.

"The atmosphere in which this transaction took place was strained and my wife was so distressed she was reduced to tears and no one apologised to her.

"I was unable to make a complaint to Mulholland's on the day because nobody senior was available. So I'm glad that we won our case."

The chief commissioner for the Equality Commission, Dr Michael Wardlow, said: "The law says it is unlawful for a service provider to provide a service of a lower or worse standard to individuals on the grounds of their colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin.

"We recommend that service providers work to ensure that their premises are a welcoming and harmonious space for their workers and customers alike.

"Part of this would include allowing the Wongs to discuss their joint financial business as a couple in the language that suits them both, as the rest of the business was conducted in English by Mr Wong."

In their statement, John Mulholland Motors said: "The business has been trading for over 30 years and in that time has welcomed literally hundreds of thousands of visitors to our showrooms."

It added: "We are an equal opportunities employer, and are proud to employ happy staff from a wide spectrum of backgrounds."