By Gordon Deegan
A morning screening of hit children's movie ‘Finding Dory’ had to be abandoned after gardaí were called when a family refused to move from premium recliner seats in the front row of a cinema.
Details of the incident are recorded in an unsuccessful discrimination case subsequently taken by the family against the cinema in question.
The family was claiming discrimination on the grounds of family status under the Equal Status Act as they were not provided with accommodation for a child’s buggy.
However, Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer, Pat Brady, was highly critical of the family’s actions and has dismissed the claim as “vexatious and without any merit whatsoever”.
In the case, the family went to the cinema on Sunday morning, November 13, 2016 to see ‘Finding Dory’.
The family bought standard ‘mini morning’ tickets and was told they could sit anywhere they wished as there were only four other people in the cinema.
The family then occupied premium recliner seats in the front row which were each €5 more expensive.
In his report, Mr Brady said: “It is hard to blame the family for sitting in them, but it is harder to believe that they really believed that the rather generalised advice that they could ‘sit anywhere’ included these seats. Perhaps they did.”
The family was asked by an attendant to move seats to other seats along the front row or pay the additional €5 per seat.
The family refused to move from the seats and when they failed to do so, the screening was halted.
According to a cinema representative at a hearing into the case, the father “became loud and abusive and demanded a refund including for part consumed food”.
The other cinema goers were brought to a different screen to see 'Finding Dory' and the loud and abusive behaviour continued and the Gardaí were called. The mother said the family left the cinema "feeling embarrassment and humiliation".
The cinema stated that there was no discriminating treatment and that the reason the family was asked to move was because they had bought the wrong tickets.
Mr Brady said that it is “extraordinary” that on being advised of the position that the family refused to move “and proceeded to cause something of a fracas in the cinema resulting in disruption to other patrons”.
Mr Brady stated that the mother “was being asked to move a matter of a couple of metres, horizontally to accommodation quite suitable for a family”.
Mr Brady records that when asked at the hearing why she did not do so the mother said that it was "a matter of principle".
Mr Brady said that a matter of principle is variously defined as "something you feel you must do (or not do) because of your moral principles".
He said: “There were further insights into the complainant’s attitude when she described her ‘embarrassment and humiliation’ on leaving the cinema. She and her family had the simplest of remedies for avoiding this humiliation had they been less obdurate about where they sat.”
Mr Brady continued: “But it is even harder to see how the respondent’s (cinema's) actions might come remotely close to a breach of the Equal Status Act."
He pointed out that the Act requires that there be "less favourable treatment" of the complainant on the relevant grounds.
He said that the cinema “requested the complainant to move a short distance that barely required her and her family to stand up to do so. She would have remained in the front row and the reason for doing so was because she had not bought the correct ticket, not because of her family status”.
Mr Brady stated that the cinema firm may have mistakenly assumed that it would have been obvious to the average customer that being told to "sit anywhere" did not include the premium seats and it should be more careful on this score.
He said: “But its failure to do so comes nowhere remotely close to grounding the complainant’s case, which is vexatious and has no merit whatsoever.”