Red Cow Hotel to pay waiter €12,500 after general manager repeatedly called him ‘Chico’

The Red Cow Hotel has been ordered to pay a waiter €12,500 in compensation after the hotel’s general manager started calling him ‘Chico’ during a hectic Christmas season shift.

Filipe Ongaro made two complaints against the Red Cow Moran Hotel, Dublin, under the Employment Equality Act over the incident on December 5, 2020, alleging the hotel discriminated against him on the grounds of race and dismissed him the following day for making a complaint about it.

He told a Workplace Relations Commission hearing he was working at a busy function on his second day on the job and was bringing food order dockets to Colm Murphy, the hotel’s general manager.

“While I was doing this he began to call me ‘Chico’, although he could clearly see my name tag with my name on it at all times,” Mr Ongaro said.

On the date in question, his response to being called Chico was: “Excuse me, what did you call me?”

But he said Mr Murphy continued to repeat the word.

“I asked him not to speak to me like this and pointed out that my name was Filipe, but he dismissed my concerns and said he talks to everyone like this,” he said.

Mr Ongaro said he felt “very uncomfortable” for the rest of the shift but had nobody to complain to as Mr Murphy was in charge.

He said he complained to the staffing agency which placed him at the hotel the next day. When he arrived to work that evening, he was sent home.

“I feel I have been discriminated against because of my nationality and have been treated very unfairly and have lost employment because I stood up for myself,” he said.

The Red Cow Moran Hotel, which was represented at the hearing by a HR manager, apologised for the use of the term.

Mr Murphy told the hearing he calls everybody ‘Chico’ and had no intention of offending or upsetting Mr Ongaro.

He apologised and told the hearing he didn’t know at the time it was offensive but he does now. He said he used to use the term generally and he is now “very embarrassed” about that.

The hotel submitted its written policies on eliminating discrimination, promoting diversity, and its grievance process. However, adjudicating officer Brian Dalton said there was “no evidence” that Mr Ongaro had been familiarised with the hotel’s induction process – believing instead that he was employed by the staffing agency which placed him there.

A duty manager gave evidence that he asked Mr Ongaro to go home the following day because he was so upset.

He said the complainant was paid for the shift and it never occurred to anybody in the hotel’s management team that Mr Ongaro was being let go.

Mr Ongaro accepted he was very upset the following day and “distracted from doing his job”.

The hotel also submitted evidence that he was named on the shift roster for weeks 49, 50 and 51 of 2020.

In his decision, published yesterday, adjudicating officer Brian Dalton said: “There can be no question that the term ‘Chico’ is offensive and is a derogatory term for people of Latin American descent.”

“In an employment context where the workforce is comprised of many staff members from diverse backgrounds and different nationalities, such a term is starkly at odds with the hotel’s stated policy,” he wrote.

He said there was no dispute of the facts but he had to consider the argument made by the manager that he used the term generally.

“I don’t find that defence credible. The term ‘Chico’, on the balance of probabilities, would not have been used when referring to a person of Irish origin,” he wrote, adding that Mr Ongaro had established a case for discrimination and the Red Cow had not rebutted it.

However, he determined the complainant was not dismissed the following day for making the complaint and had not been victimised.

He ordered the hotel to pay Mr Ongaro €12,500 in compensation.

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