Hungarian court finds pub owner guilty of discrimination

12 April 2000

On February 17, 2000, a court in the northern Hungarian town of Balassagyarmat brought a decision establishing that the refusal of a pub owner in the town of Patvarc to serve Roma had been discriminatory. The court imposed a fine of 100,000 forints (approximately 400 euros) on the owner of the pub. The Budapest-based non-governmental organisation Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI) had earlier filed a civil lawsuit against the owner of a pub in Patvarc, a village in the north of Hungary following several complaints by local Roma that they are not served in the local pub. Mr István Szőrös, one of the plaintiffs, has not been in the pub for two years because, as he claims, Ms Erika T., the owner of the pub, refuses to serve him as well as the majority of the eighty local Roma. Mr Szőrös told the court: “The pub owner told me that I would be served only if I was as white as a handkerchief.” Ms Erika T., who failed to appear at the first hearing, has stated that she was not motivated by ethnic considerations when she refused to serve local Roma and that there are non-Roma as well whom she regularly refuses to serve. The case is part of a joint ERRC/NEKI project bringing a series of lawsuits on behalf of Romani victims of discrimination in a number of spheres of social life such as housing, employment, schooling and the provision of various public services. The project involves the use of “testing” — bringing evidence comparing the treatment of two groups against each other to prove that one group suffers discrimination. The ruling in Balassagyarmat was the first time a court in Hungary had recognised “testing” as a valid technique of documenting discrimination.

In other recent anti-discrimination cases, Hungarian courts have refused to rule. For example, in May 1999, a Romani man named Mr J.R. applied for a job in Termékmix, a firm distributing brochures. Mr J.R. was told that he would be notified soon. Three weeks later Mr J.R. went to the firm again, where he was told that the position had already been filled. No verdict was brought on November 25, 1999, by the Budapest Court of Labour in what is presumed to be the first-ever case filed in Hungary concerning discriminatory hiring practices. The Labour Court ruled that it was not competent to bring a verdict in the case, and referred it to a civil court. The court justified its decision with the argument that since the claimant would not have been a full-time employee of the firm, and would have worked only on commission, the company’s procedure does not violate the Hungarian Labour Code. The case is being appealed.

(ERRC, NEKI, Roma Press Center)


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