Equal Opportunities Ombudsman’s Office: Company Violated Equal Opportunities by Not Renting Bus to LGL

On the 16th of May, 2015, the national LGBT* rights organization LGL received a notice from the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Lithuania stating that the company ‘Julturas’ violated Article 8, Part 1 of the Law on Equal Opportunities of the Republic of Lithuania by refusing to rent a bus to LGL for its trip to the EuroPride 2015 march in Riga. The Acting Equal Opportunities Ombudsman, Edita Žiobienė, has warned the company’s head about its violation.

On April 24th, 2015, LGL appealed to the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman’s Office regarding a potential case of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The ‘Julturas’ bus company revoked its contract with LGL, refusing to provide the organization with a pre-ordered bus; the service provider alleged that the bus was no longer available and instructed LGL’s staff to inquire elsewhere. “‘Julturas’ violated the principles of equal opportunities by limiting access to its services not for any legitimate reason, but merely due to the nature of LGL’s activities,” states LGL’s official complaint to the Ombudsman.

On January 2nd, 2015, LGL submitted a request to ‘Julturas’ to rent a bus for 53 people, which would go on a round-trip journey between Vilnius and Riga on June 20th. Through its correspondence with the company’s representatives, LGL was given a price and reserved the bus. In response, one ‘Julturas’ employee told LGL that “all of the details would be addressed during the month preceding the trip.”

In the meantime, on January 22nd, ‘Julturas’ rented a bus to LGL to drive between LGBT*-friendly places in Vilnius for a few hours. This time, the service was provided and neither side raised any objections regarding the agreement. Nevertheless, in its official complaint, LGL notes that ‘Julturas’ could very clearly understand the nature of LGL’s activities; the bus was rented for a tour of historically significant LGBT* locations in Vilnius, and each place was presented in detail to the passengers during their ride.

On April 7th, 2015 LGL repeatedly tried to contact ‘Jultura’ regarding its bus rental for the trip to Riga. On that same day, an employee responded, claiming that “all of the buses [for such trips] are no longer available on June 20th,” giving no explanation other than that that’s the way it “turned out.”

After receiving news that the company suddenly could not rent the organization a bus, despite having a few at their disposal, LGL took action. LGL waited a week, and on April 16th, the organization submitted a request for the same type of rental (i.e. for June 20th), this time using a different name. On the same day that ‘Julturas’ representatives told LGL that they had no availability, the company offered the ‘new’ client the very bus that it had previously promised to LGL. For the sake of clarity, on April 23rd, LGL once again asked ‘Julturas’ if any buses had become available, and was told that “nothing had changed.”

“It is clear that this company can objectively provide this service and can offer it under identical circumstances to another client, while refusing to provide it to LGL, despite the organization having submitted a request much earlier, claiming that the necessary bus is unavailable. In this way, ‘Julturas’ has violated the Law on Equal Opportunities of the Republic of Lithuania, which states that it is the duty of service providers to ensure that all customers have equal access to the same services, regardless of sexual orientation. Such direct discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation can in no way be justified by a legitimate aim,” explains LGL’s Executive Director, Vladimir Simonko.

On May 8th, 2015 the Executive Director of ‘Julturas’ submitted a written statement to the Ombudsman’s Office, claiming that it categorically rejects suggestions that the company discriminated against LGL’s representatives on the basis of sexual orientation. In its letter, the company’s representative states that she didn’t anticipate that they “wouldn’t be able to find a bus” two months before the scheduled trip, or that the company would ruin the customer’s journey. The letter also indicates that in responding to requests, the company’s representatives “are not interested in the inquirers’ sexual orientations, and do not closely examine the organizations, associations or companies from which they receive messages.”

Acting Equal Opportunities Ombudsman Edita Žiobienė responded to LGL’s official complaint, stating that the Ombudsman’s Office reached the conclusion that ‘Julturas’ violated Article 8, Part 1 of the Law on Equal Opportunities of the Republic of Lithuania, which delineates the duty of service providers to ensure that all consumers, regardless of sexual orientation, have equal access to the same services.

In the official statement issued by the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman’s Office, Žiobienė stressed that such direct discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation can in no way be justified by a legitimate aim. In accordance with Article 15, Part 2 of the Law on Equal Opportunities and Article 24, Part 1, Point 6 of the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men of the Republic of Lithuania, Žiobienė decided to admonish the head of ‘Julturas’ for its violations.

The national LGBT* rights organization LGL applauds the Acting Equal Opportunities Ombudsman’s decision in this case of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the field of service provision, and hopes the Ombudsman Office’s decision will encourage service providers to treat all customers equally, regardless of their sexual orientation.