A female Traveller who was warned by the manager of a branch of Heaton's hardware chain that "she would be watched" after her friend was involved in a false receipt scam has lost her claim of discrimination against the retailer.

In an unusual decision published last week, equality officer Gary O'Doherty said that far from being treated less favourably than non-Travellers, Martina Power was in fact treated more favourably because gardaí would normally have been called.

Power said she went into Heaton's in her home town and bought a pair of curtains. She said she then gave a lift home to a friend – Ms A. She later decided to return the curtains and when she couldn't find the receipt she concluded that her friend had taken the receipt from the bag.

When Power returned with the curtains to Heaton's she was told by the shop manager – Ms B – that Ms A had already been in and had received a refund for the curtains.

The shop manager explained to the tribunal that Ms A had come in with Power's receipt, gone to another shop assistant and asked to see the exact same pair of curtains. Ms A then went up to the till and with Power's receipt said she wanted to return the curtains and was given the cash.

Power said she went straight to her friend's house where she admitted what she had done. Power then went back to Heaton's, explained the situation and was told that unless the money was returned by 1pm the next day the gardaí would be called.

The next day she was told by the Heaton's store manager that the money had been returned but that Ms A had been "banned for life" and that any time Power came in she would also be watched.

Power claimed she was hurt and upset by this remark and argued it would not have been said to a non-Traveller.

"It was a small town and people knew each other and it was a town where if your name was Power, then you are deemed to be Traveller," said Power.

Giving evidence, Ms B – the shop manager – said she had never accused Power of stealing. Ms B said she did not inform the gardaí of the incident "on compassionate grounds" when she was informed of Ms A's "particular circumstances". But she added she had to report the incident to head office who then informed the gardaí in line with procedure.

Equality officer Doherty said the normal course of events following such an incident would have been for the shop to immediately call the gardaí, yet Ms B dealt with the incident in as "sympathetic a manner as possible".