Restaurant staff who allegedly refused to turn down ‘obscenely loud’ music ‘not aware’ complainant had disability

Emily Brady tells WRC staff at Dublin restaurant 777 took no action despite being told she had a hearing disability

Staff at a Dublin restaurant alleged to have refused to turn down its “obscenely loud” music to accommodate a hearing-impaired diner have denied that the complainant told them she had a disability.

“They didn’t care about people like me. People with disabilities do not fit their vibe and are not welcome,” Emily Brady told the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in her case against 777, a Mexican restaurant on Dublin’s George’s Street.

The workers were testifying at the WRC in response to a complaint under the Equal Status Act 2000 by Ms Brady against 777, which is operated by restaurateur John Farrell.

She told the tribunal earlier this year that the restaurant manager “said no and walked away” when she asked whether she and her friends could move to get away from a loudspeaker or have it turned down. She was told the volume was “set at that level to go with the vibe”.

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“The music was obscenely loud, to the extent that the glass was shaking in the window,” the complainant said.

Discrimination is “vehemently denied” by the restaurant.

The manager, Pepé Rodriguez, said in evidence on Wednesday that a waitress serving Ms Brady’s party told him: “The customer was complaining about loud music, requesting could I put the music down.”

“I went to the table, asked if everything was okay, they told me the music was too loud. [I said it’s] our identity, part of the atmosphere of the restaurant, however I will do my best to turn it down a little bit, however [we] need to keep what the concept is, our identity,” he said.

Mr Rodriguez told the restaurant’s solicitor, Michelle Loughnane, that moving tables was not an option because the restaurant was busy and Ms Brady was one of a party of five.

“At any stage did Ms Brady or her friends tell you of a disability?” Ms Loughnane asked.

“Not at all,” he said.

The waitress, Christine Noguera, also denied being told of a disability, contradicting the evidence given by Ms Brady and one of her party, Pat McCarthy, on a previous date.

During Ms Noguera’s evidence, the adjudicator, David James Murphy, attempted to put a question to the witness twice but got no response before addressing the company’s solicitor to say: “Ms Loughnane, you could have asked for a translator.”

“I didn’t think that this was going to be an issue,” the solicitor said.

Ms Noguera indicated she had not realised Mr Murphy had been addressing her and asked him to say her name when he did so.

“Do you acknowledge I disclosed to you I’m hearing-impaired,” Ms Brady asked.

Ms Noguera said the complainant had asked the music be “turned a little bit down”.

“I disclosed a hearing impairment,” the complainant said.

“No, you asked if it could be less louder and then I want to talk with the manager, nothing else,” she said.

Restaurant boss John Farrell said the sound system in the establishment, which had been installed at a cost of €50,000, “automatically” adjusted the sound level based on the “busyness” of the premises.

He said it was “quite loud” but “wouldn’t interfere with talking around a table” adding that it might “seem loud when you walk in” but not cause difficulty once a patron was seated.

Ms Brady put it to Mr Farrell that in settings where it was difficult to hear a conversation with a person two metres away, Health And Safety Authority guidance suggested that noise levels were “likely” to be above the 80 decibels the State agency provides as a safe level.

“I would have had a lot of noise pollution readings done in my other restaurants so I would be aware of this,” Mr Farrell said.

“Do you agree that customers ordering their food from a waiter is part of the customer experience?” Ms Brady asked.

“Well I’d hope so, yes,” he said.

“Not being able to do so would impact their satisfaction?” Ms Brady asked.

“Well if they didn’t get their food, absolutely,” he said.

In a closing submission, Ms Brady said: “I disclosed my hearing difficulty twice. I recognise, I see the waitress, Ms Noguera had trouble understanding English and possibly didn’t hear or misunderstood what was said.

“However, there is no excuse for Mr Rodriguez denying that I disclosed my disability. This is backed up by my witness and witness statements and yet everyone involved from the 777 side is saying that I did not.

“If they felt that I had not disclosed my disability at the time, why on Earth would they not respond to me saying that? There are only now complaining that I never raised it when we’re at this late stage at the Workplace Relations Commission,” she said.

Ms Loughnane, for the restaurant, argued that records of hearing tests and approval for a hearing aid grant presented by Ms Brady do not amount to medical evidence of a disability, saying she has not met the burden of proof.

The adjudicator, David James Murphy, closed the hearing to consider his decision, which is to be issued in the new year.

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