Women and Justice: Jurisdiction

International Case Law

Case 43/75, Defrenne v Sabena [1976] ECR 455 European Court of Justice (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".



Case C-136/95, Thibault [1998] ECR I-2011 European Court of Justice (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.



Case C-243/95, Hill and Stapleton v. Revenue Commissioners [1998] ECR I-3739 European Court of Justice (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 171/88, Rinner-Kühn [1989] ECR 2743 European Court of Justice (1989)


Employment discrimination, International law

At issue was a challenge to a German federal statute requiring employers to pay up to six weeks of annual sick leave for employees who worked more than 10 hours per week, or more than 45 hours per month. The applicant sued her employer, an office cleaning company for whom she worked ten hours per week, after the employer refused her request for eight hours of sick pays. Her claim was that, if Article 141 EC Treaty (ex-Article 119 EEC) and Council Directive 75/117 covered statutorily mandated sick pay provisions, the German legislation discriminated indirectly against women since the number of women impacted negatively was significantly higher than the number of men. The ECJ held that sick pay falls within the scope of Article 141 EC, which provides for the equal payment of women and men, and considered the German statute to be incompatible with the aims of Article 141 EC, unless “the distinction between the two categories of employees were justified by objective factors unrelated to any discrimination on grounds of sex.” The Court rejected the German government’s submission that compared to full-time workers, part-time workers “were not as integrated in, or as dependent on, the undertaking employing them,” declaring that “those 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.” To mount a successful defense, Member States must convince their national court that the legislative “means chosen meet a necessary aim of its social policy and that they are suitable and requisite for attaining that aim.” The Court thus extended its framework concerning the scope of judicial review of statutory-mandate social policy, as established in Case 170/84, Bilka-Kaufhaus GmbH v Karin Weber von Hartz, (1986) ECR 1607.

Gegenstand des Verfahrens war die Überprüfung eines deutschen Bundesgesetzes, das von Arbeitgebern verlangt, Arbeitnehmern, die mehr als zehn Stunden pro Woche oder mehr als fünfundvierzig Stunden pro Monat arbeiten, einen jährlichen Krankenurlaub von bis zu sechs Wochen zu zahlen. Die Klägerin verklagte ihren Arbeitgeber, eine Büroreinigungsfirma, für die sie zehn Stunden pro Woche arbeitete, nachdem ihr Antrag auf acht Stunden Krankengeld abgelehnt worden war. Sie machte geltend, dass, sofern Artikel 141 EG-Vertrag (ex-Artikel 119 EWG) und die Richtlinie 75/117 des Rates die gesetzlichen Vorschriften über die Lohnfortzahlung im Krankheitsfall umfassen, die deutschen Rechtsvorschriften Frauen mittelbar diskriminieren, da die Zahl der Frauen, die von den fraglichen Vorschriften negativ betroffen seien, deutlich höher sei als die Zahl der Männer. Der EuGH stellte fest, dass die Lohnfortzahlung im Krankheitsfall in den Anwendungsbereich von Artikel 141 EG-Vertrag fällt, der die gleiche Bezahlung von Frauen und Männern vorsieht, und hielt das deutsche Gesetz für unvereinbar mit den Zielen von Artikel 141 EG-Vertrag, es sei denn, wenn „die unterschiedliche Behandlung der beiden Arbeitnehmerkategorien durch objektive Faktoren gerechtfertigt ist, die nichts mit einer Diskriminierung aufgrund des Geschlechts zu tun haben“. Der Gerichtshof wies das Vorbringen der deutschen Regierung zurück, dass Teilzeitbeschäftigte im Vergleich zu Vollzeitbeschäftigten „nicht in einem anderen Arbeitnehmern vergleichbaren Masse in den Betrieb eingegliedert und ihm verbunden“, und erklärte, dass „diese Erwägungen (...) jedoch lediglich verallgemeinernde Aussagen zu bestimmten Kategorien von Arbeitnehmern dar“ stellen und man könne diesen „keine objektiven Kriterien entnehmen, die nichts mit einer Diskriminierung aufgrund des Geschlechts zu tun haben“. Um sich erfolgreich zu verteidigen, müssen die Mitgliedstaaten ihr nationales Gericht davon überzeugen, dass die „gewählten Mittel einem notwendigen Ziel [ihrer] Sozialpolitik dienen und für die Erreichung dieses Ziels geeignet und erforderlich sind". Der Gerichtshof erweiterte damit seinen Rahmen für die gerichtliche Kontrolle der gesetzlich vorgeschriebenen Sozialpolitik, der in der Rechtssache 170/84, Bilka-Kaufhaus GmbH gegen Karin Weber von Hartz, (1986) EUGH, 1607, festgelegt wurde.



Carole Louise Webb v. EMO Air Cargo (UK) Ltd., United Kingdom European Court of Justice (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.



Commission of the European Communities v. United Kingdom European Court of Justice (1983)


Gender 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.



Johnston v. Chief Constable European Court of Justice (1986)


Gender 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.



Public Ministry  v. Stoeckel European Court of Justice (1991)


Gender 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.



Hofmann v. Barmer Ersatzkasse European Court of Justice (1984)


Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, International law

The plaintiff, an unmarried father, took off six months from work to take care of the child while the child’s mother was working for which he demanded “maternity” leave payments for from the defendant, the relevant sickness fund. The defendant refused to pay. The German lower social court decided that the legislation only permitted maternity leave and not paternity leave. On appeal, the German state social court involved the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) in order to interpret Directive 76/207 with respect to the raised issue. In interpreting Directive 76/207, the ECJ decided that the Directive cannot force member states to grant the equivalent of paid maternity leave to fathers, even if the parents decide that the father is responsible for child care. The ECJ held that the member states have discretion to regulate “the social measures which they adopt in order to guarantee […] the protection of women in connection with pregnancy and maternity and to offset the disadvantages which women, by comparison with men, suffer with regard to the retention of employment.”

Der Kläger, der Vater wurde, ließ sich für sechs Monate von der Arbeit freistellen, um sich um das Kind zu kümmern, während die Mutter des Kindes ihrer Beschäftigung nachging. Er verlangte von der zuständigen Krankenkasse, der Beklagten, die Zahlung von „Mutterschaftsurlaub“ für den unbezahlten Urlaub. Die Beklagte weigerte sich zu zahlen. Das deutsche Landessozialgericht entschied, dass nach den Rechtsvorschriften nur Mutterschaftsurlaub, nicht aber Vaterschaftsurlaub zulässig sei. In der Revisionsinstanz hat das deutsche Landessozialgericht den Gerichtshof angerufen, um die Richtlinie 76/207 im Hinblick auf die aufgeworfene Frage auszulegen. Bei der Auslegung der Richtlinie 76/207 entschied der Gerichtshof, dass die Richtlinie die Mitgliedstaaten nicht zwingen kann, Vätern das Äquivalent eines bezahlten Mutterschaftsurlaubs zu gewähren, selbst wenn die Eltern entscheiden, dass der Vater für die Kinderbetreuung zuständig ist. Der Gerichtshof stellte fest, dass die Mitgliedstaaten über einen Ermessensspielraum verfügen, wenn es darum geht, die sozialen Maßnahmen zu regeln, „die sie ergreifen, um [...] den Schutz der Frau bei Schwangerschaft und Mutterschaft zu gewährleisten und die für die Frau anders als für den Mann tatsächlich bestehenden Nachteile in Hinblick auf die Beibehaltung des Arbeitsplatzes auszugleichen“.



Commission of the European Communities v. Italian Republic European Court of Justice (1983)


Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The Commission brought an action against the Italian Republic that they failed to properly implement legislation adopting Directive 76/207. The Commission argued that the Italian government did not properly implement certain requirements, such as equal working conditions, into national law. The Court noted 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. Thus, the Court found for the Italian Republic.

La Commissione presentava un ricorso contro la Repubblica italiana per non aver correttamente attuato la normativa di recepimento della direttiva 76/207. La Commissione sosteneva che il governo italiano non avesse adeguatamente recepito nel diritto nazionale alcuni requisiti, come la parità di condizioni di lavoro. La Corte rilevava che l’articolo 189 del trattato CEE consente a un paese di attuare la propria legislazione. Non vi è violazione della direttiva 76/207 se il diritto nazionale consente a chiunque di adire i giudici per le questioni disciplinate dalla direttiva. Così la Corte si pronunciava a favore della Repubblica italiana.



Commission of the European Communities v. France European Court of Justice (1988)


Gender 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.



Arjona Camacho v. Securitas Seguridad España, SA European Court of Justice (2015)


Employment discrimination

Ms. Arjona Camacho was dismissed from her position as a security guard at a juvenile detention center. The Social Court No. 1 of Cordoba in Spain found that her dismissal constituted discrimination on the grounds of sex, and referred to the European Court of Justice the question of whether EU law (specifically Article 18 of Directive 2006/54/EC) requires a national court to grant punitive damages, i.e., damages that go beyond the amount necessary to compensate the actual loss and damage caused by the discriminatory act, even when the concept of punitive damages does not exist within the legal tradition of that national court. The European Court of Justice found that, although punitive damages may be awarded under such circumstances, they are not required under EU law. If the national law does not provide a ground for the award of punitive damages, EU law does not independently provide such a right.

La Sra. Arjona Camacho fue despedida de su puesto como guardia de seguridad en un centro de detención juvenil. El Juzgado de lo Social Nº 1 de Córdoba en España determinó que su despido constituía una discriminación por motivos de sexo y remitió al Tribunal de Justicia de las Comunidades Europeas la cuestión de si la legislación de la UE (específicamente el artículo 18 de la Directiva 2006/54 / CE) exige una tribunal nacional para otorgar daños punitivos, es decir, daños que van más allá del monto necesario para compensar las pérdidas y daños reales causados ​​por el acto discriminatorio, incluso cuando el concepto de daños punitivos no existe dentro de la tradición legal de ese tribunal nacional. El Tribunal de Justicia de las Comunidades Europeas determinó que, aunque en tales circunstancias se pueden otorgar daños punitivos, no están obligados por la legislación de la UE. Si la legislación nacional no proporciona un motivo para la concesión de daños punitivos, la legislación de la UE no puede proporcionar dicho derecho de forma independiente.