Women and Justice: Location

International Case Law

S.A.S. v. France European Court of Human Rights (2014)

Gender discrimination

S.A.S, a 23 year old French citizen, filed an application against France to challenge the ban on the full face veil. She argued that as a woman wearing a face veil, the ban constituted a violation of her right to private life, freedom of religion, freedom of expression and her right not to be discriminated against. The French Government recognised that the ban may represent a limitation on Article 9 of the Convention i.e. the freedom to manifest one’s religion, but argued, however, that the limitation pursued legitimate aims and was necessary in a democratic society for the fulfillment of those aims. The Government argued that the ban sought to protect equality between men and women, as to consider that women must conceal their faces in public places amounted to denying them the right to exist as individuals. The Government also argued that this forced them to express their individuality only in the private family space or in an exclusively female space. The Government indicated that the practice of wearing the veil was incompatible in French society with the fundamental rules of social communication, tolerance and the requirements of “living together”. The court held that the ban imposed by the Law of 11 October 2010 was to be regarded as proportionate to the aim pursued, namely the preservation of the conditions of “living together” as an element of the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others” and thus no violation of Articles 8 or 9 of the Convention was found.

Dogru v. France European Court of Human Rights (2009)

Gender discrimination

Gender discrimination. The Muslim applicant, aged eleven at the material time, was enrolled in the first year of a state secondary school and wore a headscarf to school. On seven occasions in January 1999 the applicant went to physical education and sports classes wearing her headscarf and refused to take it off despite repeated requests to do so by her teacher, who explained that wearing a headscarf was incompatible with physical education classes. At a meeting on 11 February 1999 the school's pupil discipline committee decided to expel the applicant from the school for breaching the duty of assiduity by failing to participate actively in physical education and sports classes. The applicant's parents appealed against that decision to the appeal panel. The applicant claimed that expelling her for wearing the headscarf had amounted to an interference with her religious freedom under Article 9 of the Convention. The court however held that her rights were not infringed, following the Turkish case of Leyla Sahin (Leyla Sahin v. Turkey ([GC], no. 44774/98, ECHR 2005-XI) whereby it was found that secularism, as upheld by the French Government in that case, was of fundamental constitutional value in terms of the importance of the protection of women's rights. It was held that secularism was undoubtedly one of the fundamental principles of the State which was in harmony with the rule of law and respect for human rights and democracy. The court thus noted that secularism was the guarantor of democratic values, ensuring that all citizens are treated equally. The court confirmed that the freedom to manifest one's religion could be restricted in order to defend such values. It concluded that this notion of secularism was consistent with the values underpinning the Convention.

Siliadin v. France European Court of Human Rights (2005)

Employment discrimination, Trafficking in persons

Domestic slavery. The applicant arrived in France in 1994 aged 15 years with a passport and a tourist visa. She had agreed to work for Mr. and Mrs D. until the cost of her air ticket had been reimbursed. During this time, Mrs. D. was to attend to her immigration status and find her a place at school. In reality her passport was taken away and she became an unpaid housemaid for Mr. and Mrs. D. She worked seven days a week, without a day off, and was never paid, except by Mrs. B.’s mother who gave her one or two 500 FRF notes. At an initial hearing, Mr. and Mrs. B. were convicted; however, this was overturned on appeal. The Court of Appeal ruled that the additional investigations and hearings had shown that, while it did appear that the applicant had not been paid or that the payment was clearly disproportionate to the amount of work carried out, in contrast, the existence of working or living conditions that were incompatible with human dignity had not been established. The European Court of Human Rights rejected this decision and held that in this case there had been a domestic slavery to the fore. The Court focused on the vulnerable nature of the applicant and the fact that the work being carried out without remuneration and against her will. This case brings the issue of domestic slavery to the fore. In a report by the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men it was observed that 95% of the domestic slavery victims taken up by the Committee against Modern Slavery since 1994 were women. The case also demonstrates the specific threat that domestic slavery poses to women and highlights that over 4 million women worldwide are sold into domestic slavery each year.

France v Stoeckel, Court of Justice of the European Communities, 1991 Court of Justice of the European Communities (1991)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

Gender discrimination, employment discrimination. France had a long industrial and legal tradition prohibiting night work for women, accompanied by legislation which was aimed at protecting female workers. Alfred Stoekl, the manager of Suma SA, Obenheim, a business concerned with the packaging of audio and video cassettes, violated the ban by hiring female night workers and invoked the Equal Treatment Directive in his defense. The court held that in terms of protecting female workers, discrimination is only valid if there is a justified need for a difference of treatment as between men and women. However, whatever the disadvantages of night work may be, it does not seem that, except in the case of pregnancy or maternity, the risks to which women are exposed when working at night are, in general, inherently different from those to which men are exposed. Article 5 of Council Directive 76/207 on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions is sufficiently precise to impose on the member-States the obligation not to lay down by legislation the principle that night work by women is prohibited, even if that is subject to exceptions, where night work by men is not prohibited. This case is important as its judgment led to France rejecting legislation prohibiting women from night work with effect from February 1993.

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.

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.

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 sift 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.

Domestic Case Law

Mme Florence B…/IBM, RG 02/00504, Arret n. 635 2003 Cour d’appel de Montpellier (2003)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

Sexual discrimination – employment. Florence B, an employee of IBM France SA, was promoted to the rank of “coefficient 285” in March 1986. She remained in this position for a total of 12 years. Company statistics demonstrated that the average period of employment for male employees of the company in this position was only 4.11 years. Florence B claimed that the company failed to promote her based on grounds of sexual discrimination. IBM France SA was unable to justify Florence B’s lack of career advancement and refused to provide manuscripts supporting which would be required to show that Florence B’s lack of advancement was due to matters other than those relating to sexual discrimination. Florence B was therefore awarded damages to the amount of 30,000 euros in order to compensate her for the lack of career advancement as well as awarded an order for her promotion to a new position of “coefficient 114”. The costs of the case incurred were held to be dealt with in accordance with Article 700 of the New Civil Code Procedure.

N. de pourvoi: 84-95759 Cour de Cassation, chambre criminelle (1986)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting

Two parents sought the assistance of a non-identified female in carrying out a circumcision of their daughter, then aged 21 months and 25 days. The infant’s parents proceeded to assist the non-identified female in the act by immobilising their child throughout the operation. The child subsequently suffered from an external hemorrhage caused by an aperture of the wound, causing anaemia and loss of appetite. The infant’s parents did not at this stage bring the child’s critical condition to the attention of a doctor or emergency services. The child died shortly thereafter. The infant’s parents were convicted of voluntary grievous bodily harm resulting in the involuntary death of a minor which is prohibited in accordance with article 312 of the French Penal Code and failing to assist in the prevention of the child’s death. The case demonstrates the severity with which the French courts will hold parents liable for not only assisting in the practice of female circumcision, but also for failing to prevent the adverse consequences that it may entail.

Cour de cassation, N. de pourvoi: 02-44904, 2004 Cour de Cassation, chambre sociale (2004)

Gender discrimination

Contract of employment – dismissal – sexist and racist remarks – real and serious cause. Mr. X, employed as a chef by the company “Pavillion Montsouris”, was dismissed by a letter dated 4 June 1999 for gross negligence following several instances of alleged sexist and racist remarks made at the workplace towards several members of staff. The Court of Appeal of Paris dismissed the case, interpreting the comments made by Mr. X as “out of place” and “of bad taste” but not serious enough to warrant his dismissal. The Court of Cassation rejected this decision, reaffirming that Mr. X’s actions were nonetheless very serious and real (although this was not considered to amount to gross negligence, which only applies if there is an intention to harm towards an employer and cannot be applied between co-workers). The court confirmed that the severity of Mr. X’s sexist and racist comments were such that his dismissal was justified. This case marks the courts’ rejection of the trivialization of serious sexist and racist remarks towards female employees at the workplace.

Cour d'appel de Rennes CT0011, 9 mai 2006, No. 634 Cour d'appel de Rennes (2006)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Domestic and intimate partner violence

The family court awarded the marital home to Appellant's wife under Section 220-1 of the Civil Code, which provides that where one spouse threatens or perpetrates violence, the judge may rule that the couple should live apart, allocating the marital dwelling to the spouse who was not the perpetrator of the violence. Appellant appealed on the grounds that he had limited income, that the dwelling was his childhood home, that his wife had left voluntarily, and that she, a native of Algeria, had only married him for a French residence permit. The Court of Appeals found that there was ample evidence, such as medical reports, proving that the husband had committed violent acts against his wife on multiple occasions, that the wife had left the marital home because of such violence, and that there was no evidence that she had tried to terminate the marriage upon receipt of her residence permit. Furthermore, the Court stated that temporary housing in a women's shelter run by SOS Femmes was not tantamount to the wife's finding other lodging. The Court of Appeals therefore rejected the appeal and upheld the family court's decision to award the marital home to Appellant's wife.

Cour d'appel de Douai 1re chambre civile, 17 novembre 2008, No. 08/03786 Cour d'appel de Douai (Chambre Civile) (2008)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage

The Prosecutor appealed a marriage annulment received by a husband on the grounds that his wife had deceived him regarding her virginity. The lower court had granted this annulment citing the wife's consent to the annulment as proof of her belief that her virginity was an essential determinant of her husband's consent to marriage. The Court of Appeals granted the appeal and rejected the marriage annulment, stating that a lie that does not concern an "essential quality" is not good grounds for the annulment of a marriage, especially where the alleged deception focuses on the wife's virginity, the absence of which has no impact on married life. The alleged resulting violation of "mutual confidence" has no effect upon the validity of the marriage. Furthermore, the Court of Appeals stated that the marriage could not be annulled for a deception regarding the wife's virginity as this would go against the principles of public policy.

Cour de Cassation Chambre criminelle, Rejet, 5 septembre 1990, No. 90-83.786 Cour de Cassation (Chambre criminelle) (1990)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual violence and rape

Appellant appealed his indictment for aggravated rape, assault, and torture and acts of barbarism against his wife, arguing that marriage creates a presumption of consent to sexual relations between spouses. The Court found that such a presumption is not conclusive and that Section 332 of the Penal Code, which defines rape as "[a]ny act of sexual penetration, whatever its nature, committed against another person by violence, constraint, threat or surprise," does not exclude the possibility of rape within a marital relationship where there is a lack of consent. Furthermore, the same reasoning applies to sexual abuse other than penetration. The Court thus recognized that rape and other sexual abuse can take place within a marital relationship.

Cour de cassation Chambre criminelle, Rejet, 7 avril 1998 No. 97-84.068 Cour de Cassation (Chambre criminelle) (1998)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Appellant was convicted of aggravated assault against his wife under Section 222-13 of the Penal Code, which provides that violence against a spouse is an aggravating circumstance that adds to the gravity of the original offense. Appellant appealed his conviction on the grounds that at the time of the violence the two spouses lived separately according to the orders of their on-going divorce proceedings. The Court rejected the appeal, finding that application of Section 222-13 of the Penal Code, aggravation of assault if committed against a spouse, does not require co-habitation of the spouses.