A judge has ordered John Mulholland Motors to pay a couple £2,500 after he found that demands for them to confer in English during the sale of a car had "created a degrading and humiliating environment".
Kin Hung Wong, who is of Chinese descent, had opted to speak to his wife Ms Law, from Hong Kong, in Cantonese to help her understand details of their purchase when payment values changed due to the couple’s decision to sell their old vehicle themselves rather than part exchange.
In a hearing at Antrim County Court this week it emerged that the couple were told several times by the sales staff at the Antrim-based retailer to have their conversation in English, however.
The Belfast Telegraph reported that the couple alleged that the salesperson had incorrectly believed 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 claimed that the conduct of the sales staff had been rude and aggressive, adding that there had been no handshake upon completion of the sale.
Delivering his verdict, County Court Judge Gilpin said that he was satisfied the way the sales staff had dealt with the couple had "created a degrading and humiliating environment".
The couple's case, which related to a car purchase dating back to July 2017, was supported by the Equality Commission.
Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission, 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."
In a statement issued to the Belfast Telegraph, John Mulholland Motors said it was disappointed with the court's findings and was giving further consideration to the judgment.
The statement said: "John Mulholland Motors pride themselves in consistently delivering excellent customer service to customers from all backgrounds and nationalities in a welcoming environment.
"This is borne out by numerous industry awards. We are an equal opportunities employer and are proud to employ happy staff from a wide spectrum of backgrounds.
"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, the outcome being £2,500 awarded for injury to feelings."