WRC finds Bank’s refusal to engage with customer through an ISL interpreter constituted unlawful discrimination

5 July 2022

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WRC finds Bank’s refusal to engage with customer through an ISL interpreter constituted unlawful discrimination


  • Permanent TSB refused to allow FLAC’s client, Ms Sofiya Kalinova, who is deaf, to use an Irish Sign Language interpreter in order to raise a query with the bank by telephone.
  • The WRC found that Permanent TSB discriminated against Ms Kalinova on the ground of disability and failed to make reasonable accommodation.
  • This is the first case where a failure to engage with a deaf person communicating through an Irish Sign Language interpreter has been found to represent a breach of the Equal Status Acts.

    FLAC has welcomed the decision of the WRC in relation to a discrimination complaint taken by Ms Sofiya Kalinova against Permanent TSB. The WRC held that Permanent TSB discriminated against her on the ground of disability and failed to provide reasonable accommodation, when they refused to deal with a query she raised over the phone with the assistance of an ISL interpreter through the Sign Language Interpreting Service (SLIS).

    In the decision published today, the WRC Adjudicator stated that“…the ISL interpreter is an essential aid to the deaf person in the same way as the guide dog is for a blind person… The failure of the Respondent to take this on board has amounted to an indirect discrimination on the grounds of disability.”

    The bank repeatedly referred to Ms Kalinova as “vulnerable” in their dealings with her after the issue arose. The Adjudicator noted that this is “not an appropriate descriptive to give to anyone, least of all someone as formidable as the Complainant... As an undoubtedly strong and independent person I accept that the thoughtless categorisation of her as being vulnerable has had an impact.”

    The decision notes the efforts made by the bank to put in a place a system which allows deaf people to engage with their telephone service. However, the Adjudicator notes that these efforts have not resolved the complaint raised by Ms Kalinova. In finding that the bank’s failure to provide reasonable accommodation constituted discrimination, he noted that the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Equal Status Acts require service providers to “to deal with the individual person’s specific circumstances as presented” and that “there can rarely be a blanket policy of refusal

    The WRC awarded Ms Kalinova 8,500 euro in compensation in light of “the effect that the discriminatory treatment has had on the Complainant”.

    FLAC Managing Solicitor, Ms Sinéad Lucey, commented:

    “This decision has important implications for users of Irish Sign Language – which is recognised in legislation as the native language of its users in the State – and affirms and clarifies the extent of their rights under the Equal Status Acts. More broadly, it reaffirms that service providers should examine the individual circumstances of a person with a disability in determining what reasonable accommodation may be required.

    While there was no particular cost attached to providing reasonable accommodation in this case, particularly as the interpretation service was arranged by Ms Kalinova herself, through the Sign Language Interpretation Service in other cases the opportunity for the Equal Status Acts to promote equality of access to services for deaf people and others with disabilities is weakened by an exemption for circumstances where providing the accommodation would incur more than a ‘nominal cost’. This reduces the potential of the Acts to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are upheld in their day-to-day lives, and is also at variance with the requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which Ireland ratified in 2018). This is a matter which must be addressed in the context of the ongoing Review of the Equality Acts.