Women and Justice: Location
The Court of Cassation confirmed a Court of Appeal judgment in a case of the rape of a minor where the question at issue was whether rape was to be considered to have taken place, in violation of Article 375 of the Penal Code, even if penetration was incomplete given the incomplete physical development of the child. The Court confirmed that rape is any act of sexual penetration of whatever kind and with whatever object that is committed on a person who does not consent to it.
Defendant X was condemned under Article 433quinquies and 733septies of the Penal Code for human trafficking with the aim of exploiting three women by prostitution. The fact that the women may have given their consent, and came to Belgium for the specific purpose of prostituting themselves, was considered irrelevant. The Court of Appeal further considered irrelevant the possibility that the women in question had been active in prostitution before. The key test is whether there has been exploitation, and that this is the case when direct or indirect benefit is derived by the exploiter from the income generated by the prostitution, and this becomes the exploiter’s main source of income, regardless of whether the exploiter lives with, or is married to, the prostitute.
Following an assault by her husband (which was interrupted when he sustained a heart attack and had to be hospitalized), a woman temporarily moved into a small studio above the shop she rented and in which she worked. She brought divorce proceedings shortly after the assault, which resulted in a lower court restraining order on both parties. The husband was to be allowed to stay in the couple’s family house on the theory that this was the best solution financially and because the restraining order would make it impossible for the man to live in the studio in the rented commercial property as the wife worked there on a daily basis. On appeal, the wife requested that she be allowed to live in the family house, while the husband claimed that he should be allowed to stay there given his more limited financial means (a pension allowance). The husband did not deny the violence, but minimized the facts, while the wife claimed that there were already tensions before the assault and that her husband’s heart attack had saved her life. The Court of Appeal held that despite the absence of other witness declarations, the existence of a medical certificate supporting the woman’s claims as to the assault provided sufficient evidence of violence by the husband. The fact that the violence only occurred once did not change this and nor did the outcome of the pending criminal investigation. The Court held that, in accordance with the law of 28 January 2003 on domestic violence, the family home was to be assigned to the victim of such violence as no exceptional circumstances existed here to decide otherwise, despite an alleged imbalance in the financial means of the parties. The request by the wife for a maintenance allowance to cover the husband’s rent was rejected because the husband did not prove that the wife had a higher income and that the divorce proceedings would likely lead to financial compensation by the wife to the husband for the use of the family house.
An 18-year old woman died from injuries sustained during acts of exorcism (involving use of boiling water, acid, and beating) carried out at the request of her parents by a healer, a few months after she told her mother that she had homosexual feelings. At first instance, the acts were qualified as torture, and the fact that the victim was in a particularly vulnerable situation (mentally and physically) was considered an aggravating factor. Both the healer and the parents were sentenced by the lower court to prison terms (based on Article 417bis and 417ter of the Penal Code (torture)), but the court held that any possible discriminatory motive based on sexual orientation (which it considered unproven anyway) could not affect the criminal qualification, because the Penal Code does not provide for discrimination as an aggravating factor for torture. Contrary to the lower court, which qualified the acts as torture, the Court of Appeal did not qualify the acts as torture (as the intention of the defendants was not to punish the victim), but as blows and injuries intentionally inflicted without the purpose of manslaughter but leading to death under Article 401 of the Penal Code. In addition, the Court found that the aggravating factors included the failure to protect a vulnerable person (Article 405bis) and the fact that acts were committed by the parents of the victim had been the motive for the exorcism. The healer and both parents were sentenced to jail.
Until 1976, the rules applicable on marriage and divorce originated in the Code Napoléon. At that time, the right to manage property within a marriage was held entirely by the man. To ensure that women would not suffer the negative consequences of bad management by their spouse (i.e., debts), in the event the marriage was dissolved they had the option to decline or to accept the division of assets and liabilities within a specified period. Silence meant that all matrimonial property rights and obligations were declined. The Civil Code was amended from mid-1976 by the Law of 14 July 1976 to remove this discrimination but contained transitional provisions requiring the old rules to continue to apply under certain circumstances. In the case at hand (in which the women failed to make a declaration within the old deadline), the Constitutional Court was asked if the old provisions still applied for marriages entered into before the amendments became applicable and dissolved after that date. The first court ruled that the deadline no longer applied (as there was no basis for it because men and women acquired equal rights to manage matrimonial property in 1976), but it took successive appeals, culminating in an appeal before the Belgian Supreme Court, to confirm this and annul the relevant transitional provisions.
Following a proceeding brought by a Belgian consumer organization to seek the annulment of a law amending the Gender Law of 2007 in so far as it allowed certain differences in insurance premiums to be paid by men and women, the Constitutional Court (drawing on a judgment of the European Court of Justice as this concerned a question of the interpretation of a provision in a European Directive) ruled that such different treatment was permitted only for policies concluded before 21 December 2012.
Mr. Montre brought proceedings before the Antwerp Labor Court because the law applicable at the time (Royal Decree No 72 of 10 November 1967 on the retirement and survivors' pension for self-employed persons) allowed him to benefit from a full pension only as of the age of 65 and obliged him to accept a 25% reduction in his pension if he chose to retire at the age of 60 (5% per year before 65), while self-employed women could retire at the age of 60 and enjoy a full pension. Upon referral, the Constitutional Court ruled that there was no discrimination in this particular case because at that time, there were still long-standing differences between self-employed men and self-employed women as regards working opportunities and conditions. These objectively and reasonably justified a distinction as to the age of retirement: (i) Women had fewer opportunities to work as self-employed persons and as a result had lower pension entitlements as these were based on the length of career and women generally had shorter careers; (ii) To balance this inequality, a younger retirement age had been attributed to women and a pension reduction applied to men who retired before their normal retirement age of 65; (iii) It would take time to redress the low level of opportunities for women in the self-employment sector, so only a progressive abolition of the retirement age difference could be appropriate. This in turn would bring Belgium, an EU Member State, into line with EU regulations and case law on this topic.
The Labor Court of Ghent referred a number of prejudicial questions to the Constitutional Court in the context of a dispute between a woman who claimed that her employer dismissed her after having requested maternity leave, parental leave and the continuation of a related “time credit” contract. The Labor Court agreed that the company had not provided justification for the dismissal, but had questions about how to calculate the indemnity. The applicant claimed it should be calculated on the basis of full-time employment. The Constitutional Court, however, ruled that reducing an employee’s benefits proportionally for part-time workers (which disproportionately affects women) was not a form of discrimination as the regime applies equally to men and women.
In November 2011, the applicant became pregnant and in February 2012 she was dismissed as part of a restructuring procedure in which 20% of employees were laid-off. She argued that the termination of her contract was due to her pregnancy. The Labor Court ruled in her favor and ordered the company to pay her an indemnity and to bear the costs of the legal proceedings because it failed to prove that the dismissal of the pregnant woman was based on reasons unrelated to her state of pregnancy.
On appeal of a judgment of a lower court, the Labor Court ruled that the protection of women from being fired by an employer for reasons related to their pregnancy (including pregnancy-related absences/illnesses) also applies during the trial period, regardless of legislation permitting employers to fire employees during their trial period when absent for a period exceeding seven days. As a result, a pregnant employee may only be fired during the pregnancy-related protection period (i.e., from the moment the employer is notified of the pregnancy until one month following the legal post-natal maternity leave) if the employer can prove that the laying-off is due to reasons unrelated to the pregnancy. In case of doubt, the court will rule in favor of the employee.
A female employee was dismissed with severance pay due to a period of incapacity resulting from two consecutive miscarriages. In the circumstances of the case, it was not possible to apply article 40 (protection against dismissal for pregnant women) of the Labour Law of 16 March 1971, because the employer was not informed of the pregnancy. However, because the dismissal followed right after the second miscarriage, the female employee was discriminated against based on her sex. This was not refuted by the employer. Given the timing of the events and the timing of the termination of the employment relationship, the dismissal violated the law of 7 May 1991 on equal treatment for men and women with regard to working conditions, access to employment, and promotion, access to independent professions and supplementary social security schemes. This law does not provide for a fixed amount of damages. The moral damages were estimated at EUR 5,000.
A female employee claimed that she was discriminated against with regard to her salary at the time of her recruitment and subsequently as she became more senior in the company. She argued that she was granted a lower salary at the beginning of her employment than male employees with equal qualifications and that she was not later granted a higher salary in the same way as male employees who received such higher salary only based on their seniority.The Court of first instance rejected the claims of the female employee. On appeal however, the Court applied the case “Danfoss” (Court of Justice, 109/88 of 17.10.1989) to the case at hand. Regarding her salary at the time of the beginning of the employment, it ruled that there was no discrimination. However, in terms of the subsequent increase of the salary, the Court held that there was indeed discrimination.
The Brussels Court of Appeal recognized marital rape and found that the husband who used serious violence to coerce his wife into having sex against her wishes was guilty of the criminal offense of rape. Furthermore, this act was neither subject to bail nor to a defense of misunderstanding.
With regard to the marriage of persons of different nationality Belgian courts will ordinarily look to the national statutes governing each person to determine whether the conditions of marriage have been met. Here, however, the Court refused to look to Algerian law to determine whether the conditions for marriage had been met when called upon to decide whether the marriage between an Algerian Muslim woman and an Italian non-Muslim man could be declared null. The Brussels Court of Appeal stated that Algerian law, which includes the prohibition for a Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim, must be rejected as being contrary to international public policy as it results in discrimination regarding the freedom of marriage based on gender and/or their religion. The Court therefore refused to consider Algerian law with regard to the law applicable to both parties of the marriage.
The Cour de Cassation held that a finding of rape does not preclude a finding of indecent assault. The court therefore rejected an appeal for lowering the appellant's sentence and stated that the finding of the lower court of indecent assault added to the gravity of the crime of rape.
Pursuant to the Pay Gap Law of 22 April 2012, a mediator may be appointed to generate an action plan for gender neutrality or to intercede with employees who feel victimized by unfair treatment at work. This Royal Decree of 25 April 2014 determines the role and the qualifications of the mediator, enumerates the deontological rules s/he must respect, and describes the mediation procedures.
The Collective Labor Agreement No. 95 of 10 October 2008 was established by the National Labor Council to ensure compliance with equal treatment principles at all stages of the employment relationship. Equal treatment implies the absence of discrimination based on several factors, including gender and sexual orientation. The principle of equal treatment must be complied with at every stage of the labor market, e.g., the employment relationship, the conditions for access to employment, conditions for employment, and termination of employment. It was made binding in law by the Royal Decree of 11 January 2009.
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".