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ERRC: Bulgarian Courts Continue to Move Against Racial Discriminators

27 July 2005

The European Roma Rights Centre Wins Antidiscrimination Case against Bulgarian Restaurant

Budapest, Sofia. In a judgment based on Bulgaria's comprehensive anti-discrimination law, the Blagoevgrad trial court in southwestern Bulgaria has ruled against a local restaurant for having denied its services to Romani customers. The court found the refusal of services to constitute discrimination, and ordered the business to abstain from repeating such conduct. The claim was brought by the ERRC in its own capacity in the public interest, making use of a provision of Bulgaria's Protection Against Discrimination Act, authorising public interest lawsuits by NGOs where discrimination has infringed the rights of many individuals.

The facts of the case are as follows: On 28 March 2004, a group of Romani individuals visited a Blagoevgrad restaurant, and were seated at a table. The establishment was busy, with a number of non-Romani customers enjoying the service. The Romani group were left waiting, ignored by waiters, despite their repeated requests to be served. Newcomer non-Romani clients, who had entered after the Romani group, were served. Approximately one hour after they had entered, the Romani customers had still not been served. They sought an explanation from a manager but received none, and left. Immediately, they filed a complaint with the police and, shortly thereafter, brought the facts to the attention of the ERRC.

In court, the ERRC argued that the business' refusal to provide services to the Romani customers constituted direct racial discrimination in breach of Bulgaria's Protection Against Discrimination Act, affecting any potential Romani customer, as well as the actual victims. The ERRC sought a court declaration to this effect, and a ban on the business from further denying their services to Romani clients. The respondent defended itself, claiming that the refusal of services was not based on race, but on a legitimate reason. It was alleged that the Romani customers had come after working hours when no orders were being taken any longer. The ERRC however produced evidence which successfully established that the victims had come within working hours, as well as that customers were generally served by the business after official working hours, exposing thereby respondent's alleged reason to be pretextual. Based on the evidence, the court ruled that respondent had failed to rebut the inference of discrimination, and, accordingly, discrimination was established.

The decision is the most recent in a steady stream of positive findings by Bulgarian courts in discrimination cases against Roma, since Bulgaria's comprehensive anti-discrimination law was adopted in December 2003.

On the occasion of the decision, ERRC Legal Director Dianne Post said: "With this decision, Bulgarian judicial authorities continue to demonstrate that the law is an effective tool for challenging racial discrimination. Racial discriminators in Bulgaria are now on alert that their actions will land them in court."

The decision may still be appealed. ERRC has been represented by attorney Margarita Ilieva, Sofia-based consultant for the ERRC on racial discrimination litigation.

For further information on the case, please contact ERRC Legal Director Dianne Post at +36-1-413-2221 (dianne.post@errc.org), or Margarita Ilieva at +359-2-943-4876 (margarita@bghelsinki.org).

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ERRC Seeks Media Production Consultancy

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The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) seeks a Media Production consultant company to produce a video for the ERRC’s twenty-year anniversary.

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Ethel Brooks on Roma Genocide Remembrance

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