Teen in wheelchair was denied a haircut by barber

€2k to pay after discriminating against boy with cerebral palsy

A Cork City-based Turkish barber has been ordered to pay €2,000 for refusing to cut the hair of a teenager with mild cerebral palsy.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found the barber discriminated against the teen on the grounds of disability under the Equal Status Acts when refusing to cut the hair of wheelchair user Thomas Bermingham, aged 13, in March last year.

The boy’s mother, Mary Bermingham took the case on her’s son’s behalf and she expressed her delight at the decision yesterday.

Ms Bermingham said: “The outcome could not be better. All I ever wanted was an apology from the barber. It was never about the money.”

Ms Bermingham said it was a “ridiculous carry-on” by the barber to refuse to cut her son’s hair.

She said: “Everyone loves Thomas and he shouldn’t be put down because of his disability.”

Ms Bermingham — who represented herself at the hearing — said that Thomas was upset on the day but very happy to hear of the WRC ruling.

She said the money wold be spent on therapies for Thomas. In the case, Ms Bermingham told the WRC that she visited the barber’s on March 31, 2016, with Thomas and his two sisters, aged seven and nine.

She said the barber’s was empty and she heard the barber say “I can’t cut that” in response to her son, who was sitting in his wheelchair.

Ms Bermingham said she told the barber, Mr B, that her son could get out of the wheelchair, but was asked to leave the shop and Mr B held the door open.

The teenager got his hair cut at another barber’s two doors down and Ms Bermingham returned to the Turkish barber’s and asked Mr B whether he had refused her son a haircut because he was sitting in a wheelchair.

She was told by Mr B to “come back when the boss is here”. She asked for the boss’s name, but was informed that Mr B was in charge.

Ms Bermingham told the WRC she understood that her son was entitled to receive a haircut and that it was a disgrace that he was refused.

The mother aired her grievance over the episode on Cork local radio, where it was alleged a gay couple had also been refused a haircut at that barber’s.

A protest took place outside the barber’s in July 2016 and Mr B told the hearing that the publicity from Ms Birmingham’s complaint impacted very badly on his business and he sold it on November 7, 2016, for in or around the same price he paid for the lease.

Mr B said he felt threatened by the media exposure and had difficulties in communicating through English, which prevented him giving his side of the story to the media.

Giving a completely different account of what occurred, Mr B said he attempted to cut the boy’s hair while sitting on the wheelchair but the teen was upset. The barber believed he had made a genuine effort at reasonably accommodating Ms Bermingham’s son in his quest for a haircut.

Mr B argued that he had not refused a haircut and had instead offered a temporary suspension of the haircut, accompanied by an offer of a return to the shop to continue the cut. The claim of discrimination was denied as being unfounded.

Adjudication officer Patsy Doyle said she found Ms Bermingham “very consistent and compelling in her evidence of the alleged refusal to undertake the requested haircut. It was clear that the event was very distressing”.

She said: “I have found that the complainant was refused a haircut in the manner submitted.”


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