Ukrainian woman wins Rīga car wash discrimination case

The owner of a car wash in the center of Rīga will have to pay 1,000 euros in compensation for moral damage to a Ukrainian citizen for discrimination, the Riga City Court has decided

The owner of the car wash pleaded his innocence, however, the court recognized that the owner of the car wash violated the prohibition of discrimination in the provision of the service because of a customer's ethnicity, the Latvian Human Rights Center stated. Neither the owner of the car wash nor its precise location were specified.

The plaintiff in the court, a citizen of Ukraine, seeking asylum from the war, came to Latvia from Ukraine in her personal vehicle in March 2022, shortly after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

"Wanting to wash and clean the car after the long journey, which took her a total of five days, the plaintiff came with her daughter to a car wash in the center of Rīga. Although the employees of the car wash initially told the customer to wait, later, when they noticed that the plaintiff's car had license plates registered in Ukraine, they refused to provide a service, claiming that the owner of the car wash had forbidden them to serve Ukrainians," the center said in a statement.

The woman initially left the car wash, but upset by the incident, she returned there to find out if she really understood correctly that she was not served only because she was from Ukraine, and also to receive an apology. However, the woman was again refused service and in addition, one of the employees told her: "Change the license plates, then we will wash them". This conversation was audio-recorded by the plaintiff. 

As she received no apology, the woman called the police at such discriminatory treatment. As the Human Rights Center informed, State Police officers conducted a departmental inspection and accepted written explanations from the car wash employees, who confirmed that they acted in accordance with the management's order. The woman also reported the specific case of discrimination to the Human Rights Center of Latvia, which provides legal assistance in cases of discrimination.

"When giving explanations to the court, the defendant did not admit the claim. He denied the fact that he had given the order not to service cars with Ukrainian license plates at all. The defendant claimed that he had given an order not to service cars with Ukrainian license plates free of charge and out of line, not [an order] not to service them at all. But the defendant has not indicated the existence of any such evidence that would confirm the mentioned statements," the Human Rights Center explained.

The court, after listening to the explanations of the participants in the court session, hearing the testimonies given by the witnesses, examining and evaluating the evidence in the case, recognized that the defendant had committed a direct violation of the prohibition of discrimination in the provision of services against the plaintiff due to her ethnicity. 

The court referred to Article 91 of the Constitution, which stipulates that "all people in Latvia are equal before the law and the court. Human rights are exercised without any discrimination", as well as to Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which stipulates that any kind of discrimination is unacceptable.

The court also took into account the fact that the defendant did not express any regret about what happened and did not apologize.

The verdict was announced on November 28 of this year and it can still be appealed.

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