European Court of Justice

  • Boso v. Italy (2002). Gender discrimination, abortion rights. In 1984, Ms. Boso, an Italian citizen who is married, decided to have an abortion despite her husband's opposition. Mr. Boso initiated a suit against his wife claiming that the termination deprived the unborn child of its right to life. He also challenged the constitutionality of Italian legislation which provided that women could unilaterally decide whether to have an abortion. The European Court of Human Rights dismissed the complaint which alleged that the termination of a pregnancy by the application's wife violated the right to life under the Convention and also his rights under Article 8 and 12 of the Convention. The Constitutional Court dismissed the complaint on the grounds that the decision to grant the mother full responsibility was logical given the effects of pregnancy, both physical and mental, on the pregnant woman. Mr. Boso's appeal to the Venice District Court alleging violations of Article 2, 8 and 12 of the Convention was also dismissed. The applicant's final appeal to the Court of Cassation, again on constitutional and convention grounds, was similarly dismissed.
  • Seferovic v. Italy (2011). Lawful arrest or detention, custodial violence. The detention pending deportation of a woman who had recently given birth found to be unlawful and violated Article 5 Section 1 (f) and Article 5 Section 5 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights. In September 2000, the applicant, a woman from Bosnia and Herzegovina, applied to the Italian authorities for refugee status. The application was not forwarded to the competent commission because it contained formal defects. On September 26, 2003 the applicant gave birth to a child, who died a few days later at the hospital. Then, on November 11, 2003 the police served her with a deportation order and transferred her to a holding center pending such deportation that the applicant's placement and detention had been in breach of Italian immigration law  no. 286 of 1998, which provided that her deportation should have been suspended until six months after she had given birth (March 26, 2004), regardless of the fact that the baby had died. In March 2006, the Rome Civil Court granted Ms Seferovic refugee status. In addition, by was of just satisfaction, the government was required to pay the applicant 7,500 euros (EUR) for non-pecuniary damage for her unlawful detention as there was no redress available under Italian law. 
  • Brachner v. Pensionsversicherungsanstalt (2011). Gender discrimination, property and inheritance rights. Ms. Brachner brought an action against the Pensionsversicherungsanstalt arguing that the implementation of an adjustment factor for pensions, established in 2008, resulted in indirect discrimination against women who were disproportionately less likely to qualify for an exceptional pension increase. Upon referral from the Austrian Supreme Court, the European Court of Justice held that (1) an annual pension adjustment scheme comes within the scope of the EU Directive guaranteeing equal treatment of men and women in matters of social security, (2) a national arrangement that excludes from an exceptional pension increase a significantly higher percentage of female pensioners would violate the Directive, and (3) the disadvantage cannot be justified by the fact that women receive their pension at an earlier age or that they receive their pension over a longer period.
  • Pensionsversicherungsanstalt v. Kleist (2010). Employment discrimination, gender discrimination. Mrs. Kleist, who was employed as chief physician for the pension insurance institution, was terminated pursuant to a policy requiring termination of all employees, whether male or female, upon reaching the age at which they could draw a public retirement pension. Mrs. Kleist argued that the termination policy was discriminatory because, under the pension statute, women were able to draw a pension at an age five years younger than men; thus requiring their termination five years earlier. After proceedings in the lower courts, the Austrian Supreme Court referred to the European Court of Justice the question of whether the policy constituted prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sex. The Court answered the question in the affirmative, holding that since the criterion used by such a policy is inseparable from the worker's sex, there is a difference in treatment that is directly based on sex. Having found direct discrimination, the Court also held that the difference in treatment could not be justified by the objective of promoting employment of younger persons.
  • Mayr v. Bäckerei und Konditorei Gerhard Flöckner OHG (2008). Employment discrimination, gender discrimination. Ms. Mayr was employed as a waitress with Konditorei Gerhard Flöckner, and was terminated while undergoing in vitro fertilization. Ms. Mayr then filed suit to recover payment of her salary and pro rata annual remuneration, arguing that from the date on which in vitro fertilization of her ova took place, she was entitled to the protection against dismissal provided by Austrian legislation. After proceedings in the lower courts, the Austrian Supreme Court referred to the European Court of Justice the question of whether a female worker is entitled to protection from dismissal where her ova have been fertilized but not yet transferred to her uterus. The European Court of Justice answered the question in the negative. But the Court also held that EU Directives on the implementation of equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training and working conditions preclude the dismissal of a female worker who is undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment where it is established that the dismissal was based on such treatment.
  • Case 171/88, Rinner-Kühn [1989] ECR 2743 (1989). Employment discrimination. At issue was a challenge to a German statute requiring employers to pay up to six weeks of annual sick leave for employees who worked more than ten hours per week, or more than forty-five hours per month. R-K sued her employer, an office cleaning company for whom she worked ten hours per week, after her request for eight hours of sick pay had been refused. Her claim was that, if Article 141 covered statutory-mandate sick pay provisions, the German legislation discriminated indirectly against women. The ECJ held that Article 141 covered sick pay, and that consequently the statute "must, in principle, be regarded as contrary to the aims of Art.[141]", unless the German government could muster an argument to the contrary. The Court rejected the government's submission that compared to full-time workers, part-timers "were not as integrated in, or as dependent on, the undertaking employing them", declaring that "these considerations, in so far as they are only generalizations about certain categories of workers, do not enable criteria which are both objective and unrelated to any discrimination on grounds of sex to be identified." It then announced a variation of the least-means proportionality test developed in Bilka. To mount a successful defense, Member States must convince a judge that the legislative "means chosen meet a necessary aim of its social policy," and that these means "are suitable and requisite for attaining that aim." The national judge has a duty to apply this test. The Court thus extended the Bilka framework to the judicial review of statutory-mandate social policy.
  • Case C-243/95, Hill and Stapleton v. Revenue Commissioners [1998] ECR I-3739 (1998). Employment discrimination. Job-sharing was introduced into the Irish Civil Service in 1984. Job-sharers work half the number of hours of full-time workers and are paid the same hourly rate. The scale of annual incremental salary increases for job-sharers are parallel to that for full-time workers with each point on the job-sharers scale representing 50% of the corresponding point on the full-time scale. 98% of job-sharers in the Irish Civil Service are women. According to the national referring tribunal a job-sharer can acquire the same experience as a full-time worker. When H and S transferred from job-sharing to full-time work they were initially assimilated to the same point on the full-time incremental scale as that which they had occupied on the job-sharers' scale. They were both subsequently reclassified at a lower point on full-time scale on the grounds that two years on the job-sharers' scale represented one year on the full-time scale. The questions posed to the ECJ by the Labor Court in Ireland arose from the decision by H and S to contest their reclassification. The Court took the view that workers who transferred from job-sharing, where they worked 50% of full-time hours and were paid 50% of full-time pay, to full-time work, were entitled to expect both the number of hours that they worked and the level of their pay to increase by 50%, in the same way as workers converting from full-time work to job-sharing would expect these factors to be reduced by 50%, unless a difference of treatment can be justified. Such development did not occur in this case, with the result that, as former job-shares are paid less than twice their job-sharing salary, their hourly rate of pay as full-time workers is reduced. Within the category of full-time workers, therefore, there is unequal treatment, as regards pay, of employees who previously job-shared, and who regress in relation to the position which they already occupied on the pay scale. In so finding, the Court observed that the use of the criterion of actual time worked during the period of job-sharing fails to take account, inter alia, of the fact that job-sharing is a unique category of work, given that it does not involve a break in service, or of the fact that a job-sharer can acquire the same experience as a full-time worker. Furthermore, a disparity is retroactively introduced into the overall pay of employees performing the same functions so far as both the quality and quantity of the work performed is concerned. In such a case, application of provisions of the kind at issue before the national tribunal result in discrimination against female workers which must be treated as contrary to Article 119 of the Treaty. The Court of Justice concluded that it would be otherwise only if the difference of treatment which was found to exist between the two categories of worker were justified by objective factors unrelated to any discrimination on the grounds of sex. It added that it is for the national tribunal to decide if any such objective factors exist.
  • Case C-136/95, Thibault [1998] ECR I-2011 (1998). Employment discrimination. T was employed by the CNAVTS as a "rédacteur juridique" (official responsible for legal drafting). According to a CNAVTS policy, any employee, after six months service, was automatically entitled to assessment of his/her performance in order to evaluate the possibility of promotion. T was on leave for over six months of the year because of both sickness and pregnancy and was denied assessment. However, had she not taken her maternity leave, she would have accumulated the required six months period necessary for the assessment. According to the relevant French legislation in force at that time, an employee was entitled to 16 weeks of maternity leave, which could be extended to 28 weeks, and that this period was "to be treated as period of actual work for the purpose of determining a worker's rights by virtue of length of service" (L 123-1(c) Code du travail). T brought the case before the Conseil de Prud'hommes (Labor Tribunal) in Paris, which upheld her claim and ordered CNAVTS to compensate her. SNAVTS appealed to the Cour de Cassation (court of Cassation), which set aside the previous judgment and referred the case to the Conseil de Prud'hommes of Melun which reiterated the Paris tribunal's conclusion. CNAVTS again appealed to the Cour de Cassation which referred the case to the ECJ. The ECJ held that the Equal Treatment Directive allows Member States to guarantee women specific rights on account of pregnancy and maternity. These rights are constructed so as to ensure the implementation of the principle of equal treatment between men and women. The Court stressed that, seen in this light, "the result pursued by the Directive is substantive, not formal equality". The Court stated that Member States enjoy discretion on how to implement these rights; however, this discretion must be exercised within the boundaries prescribed by the Directive. Thibault marked the return of the pivotal principle that discrimination on grounds of pregnancy and maternity leads to direct discrimination which had been watered down since its establishment in Dekker.
  • Carole Louise Webb v. EMO Air Cargo (UK) Ltd., United Kingdom (1994). Gender discrimination. Carole Louise Webb v. EMO Air Cargo (UK) Ltd., United Kingdom, European Court of Justice, 1994. Gender discrimination, employment discrimination. Mrs. Webb learned that she was pregnant two weeks after starting with EMO Air Cargo, where she was hired to cover for another employee, Mrs. Stewart, during her maternity leave. Mrs. Webb expected to stay with EMO Air Cargo after covering for Mrs. Stewart, but was dismissed from the company after notifying EMO of her pregnancy. A letter from EMO clearly stated pregnancy as the reason for her dismissal. An industrial tribunal and the Court of Appeal dismissed Mrs. Webb's claims of direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of sex. An appeal to the House of Lords was referred to the European Court of Justice, and the European Court of Justice determined that Mrs. Webb's dismissal was contrary to Article 2(1) and Article 5(1) of the Equal Treatment Directive. The ECJ also noted that Article 2(3) of the Equal Treatment Directive recognizes the importance of protecting women during pregnancy and after the birth of children, by allowing individual Member States to introduce protective legal provisions. Lastly, the ECJ acknowledged that the dismissal of pregnant women during pregnancy and maternity leave is prohibited, noting that exceptions to this prohibition are available only in exceptional cases in which the dismissal is unrelated to the pregnancy.
  • Case 43/75, Defrenne v Sabena [1976] ECR 455 (1976). Employment discrimination. D worked as a flight attendant for the airline Sabena. The airline paid her less than her male colleagues who did the same work. The ECJ held that Article 119 of the Treaty of the European Community was of such a character as to have horizontal direct effect, and therefore enforceable not merely between individuals and the government, but also between private parties. Article 157 TFEU (119 TEEC, 141 TEC) was invoked which stated "Each Member State shall ensure that the principle of equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value is applied".
  • Public Ministry v. Stoeckel (1991). Employment discrimination. The region had a national law that women cannot be employed in working at night, especially in factories and plants. Suma was a company that had to lay off people and switch to a continuous shift-work system because of economic difficulties. Thus, it had women employees work night shift as well, which violated French Law. The company argued that Article 5 of Council Directive 76/207/EEC demanded equal treatment for men and women when it comes to working conditions. The Court ruled that the directive was specific enough that the Member State was obligated not to pass the legislation it had.
  • Commission of the European Communities v. France (1988). Employment discrimination. The Commission brought proceedings against France claiming that it failed to adopt all of the measures required by Council Directive 76/207 within prescribed time. The French government argues that removing special rights for women that are in place should be left to the two sides of industry. However, the Court thinks that leaving industry to work out the issue through collective negotiation without any time limit is unacceptable and the French Republic violated the treaty.
  • Johnston v. Chief Constable (1986). Employment discrimination. A new regulation was instituted that women in the Royal Ulster Constabulary would not be given firearms to carry or trained in them. Johnston was a police officer who filed a complaint of sexual discrimination. The Court recognizes that the policy was instituted by the Chief Constable to protect women from risks and that it is up to a national tribunal to determine whether this type of action meant for public safety is allowed in light of Directive 76/207.
  • Hofmann v. Barmer Ersatzkasse (1984). Employment discrimination. The plaintiff is the illegitimate father of a child and took off work to take care of the child for a while. He applied for maternity leave and was turned down by the defendant, his employer. The country's court decided that the legislation only permitted maternity leave and no paternity leave. In interpreting Directive 76/207, the Court decided that it was not meant to force member states to grant the same leave to fathers even if that is what the parents decide.
  • Commission of the European Communities v. United Kingdom (1983). Employment discrimination. The Commission brought a charge against the United Kingdom for failing to fully implement the Directive 76/207. The Commission's complaint is that the legislation enacted in the United Kingdom does not state that provisions contrary to equal treatment in any collective agreement will be void. The UK legislation also has an exception for private households and the practice of midwifery. The Court decided that the UK failed to meet its obligations under the treaty.
  • Commission of the European Communities v. Italian Republic (1983). Employment discrimination. The Commission brought an action against the Italian Republic that they failed to properly implement legislation adopting Directive 76/207. The Commission argues that the Italian government did not properly implement certain requirements, such as equal working conditions, into national law. The Court notes that Article 189 of the EEC Treaty permits a country to implement its own form of legislation. There is no infringement of Directive 76/207 if the national law lets anyone bring the matters covered under the Directive before the Courts. So the Court found for the Italian Republic.