ERRC Applauds Court-Approved Compensation for Racial Discrimination against Roma by Czech Hotel Owner
29 October 1999
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation based in Budapest, applauded the court-approved settlement earlier this week of a lawsuit initiated in 1998 against a hotel restaurant for refusing to serve Roma. On 26 October, 1999, the Regional Court in Ostrava accepted the offer of the Hotel Imperial, in the North Moravian industrial city of Ostrava, Czech Republic, to pay 25,000 Czech crowns (the equivalent of approximately $800 USD) as compensation for having refused service to three Roma. At the same time, the hotel director acknowledged that hotel staff had improperly discriminated against the Roma in denying them service almost a year earlier. The Court's approval of this settlement ends successfully the first legal case to challenge racial discrimination in access to public accommodations in the Czech Republic.
On 18 November 1998, three Roma entered the restaurant of the Hotel Imperial, sat at a table and ordered coffees. A non-Roma legal staff member of the European Roma Rights Center sat at a neighbouring table and also ordered coffee. Shortly thereafter, a waiter approached the Roma and said, "We do not serve Roma here." The waiter then asked the Roma to leave the hotel, explaining that he was following the orders of the hotel director. Following the departure of the three Roma, the ERRC lawyer was served her coffee.
One of the Romani victims, Petr Horvath of the Association for Roma in Moravia, launched a lawsuit against Hotel Imperial for infringement of his human dignity and racial discrimination, in violation of Article 11 of the Czech Civil Code. Horvath's claim was supported by statements from the other three witnesses present. The ERRC assisted Czech lawyer, Vladimir Jezek in bringing the action. Mr Jezek stated: "Petr Horvath was humiliated. He had never previously visited this hotel, and there is simply no justification for a refusal of service based on ethnicity."
The hotel director maintained that this waiter's denial of service was an isolated incident. However, according to Czech newspaper reports, other hotel employees have confirmed having received orders from management not to serve Roma.
According to the terms of the settlement approved by the Regional Court this week, the Hotel Imperial will pay 10,000 Czech crowns to Petr Horvath and 15,000 Czech crowns to the civic association "Co-Existence", to support construction of an integrated Romani and non-Romani housing project called "Village Co-Existence" in Ostrava.
Petr Horvath has stated that he will dedicate his 10,000 crown damages to the Association for Roma in Moravia.
Debbie Winterbourne, ERRC staff attorney and witness in the case, stated: "I was living in Ostrava for eight months. The racism and discrimination against the Roma in this city is frightening. The behaviour of the waiter in Hotel Imperial reflects the racist attitudes of most of the non-Roma people that I encountered in the city of Ostrava. If I was to walk down the street with a Romany friend, non-Roma would glare at us. Whilst on the trams, my Roma colleagues were kicked. And Hotel Imperial was not the only establishment that refused to serve Roma during my time in this city."