Race discrimination case: NI car dealership ordered to pay couple £2,500

Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner at the Equality Commission.
Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner at the Equality Commission.

A Northern Ireland car dealership has been ordered to pay a couple £2,500 after a court ruled that the company had racially discriminated against them.

The award was made to a man of Chinese descent and his wife, a Hong Kong national, by the County Court sitting in Antrim after they claimed racial harassment while buying a car from John Mulholland Motors, Randalstown.

Kin Hung Wong and his wife Ms Law took the case under the Race Relations Order with the support of the Equality Commission.

While purchasing a new car from the dealership, IT worker Mr Wong, whose first language is English, discussed the details of the deal with Ms Law in Cantonese – her first language. But he claimed they were told several times by the sales staff to have their conversation in English.

The couple alleged that the sales person believed incorrectly that Ms Law could understand the details if they were told to her in English, despite them explaining that she was unable to fully understand if they only used English to communicate.

Mr Wong found the way the sales staff dealt with them, asking them several times to speak only in English, was rude and aggressive, and he says there was no handshake upon completion of the deal.

In delivering his judgement, Judge Gilpin said he was satisfied that the way the sales staff had dealt with the couple had “created a degrading and humiliating environment”.

“I felt we were treated very badly and were disrespected by the company,” Mr Wong said. “We were interrupted and told to speak English because we are in the UK. The atmosphere in which this transaction took place was strained and my wife was so distressed she was reduced to tears.”

Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner at the Equality Commission, said the Wongs should have been allowed to discuss their financial business as a couple in the language that suited them both.

Reacting to the ruling, a spokesman for John Mulholland Motors said they were “disappointed with the findings of the court” and are “giving further consideration to the judgement.”

He said the company prides itself in “consistently delivering excellent customer service to customers from all backgrounds and nationalities in a welcoming environment.”

"This case, as funded by the Equality Commission, denotes the first time in the company’s history that such a claim has been brought against the business.

"We have procedures in place to support customers who do not have English as a first language and policies around how we recognise and accommodate all vulnerable customers," the spokesman added.