Von Colson and Kamann v Land Nordrhein-Westfalen [1984]

European Law

 

Von Colson and Kamann v Land Nordrhein-Westfalen
‘The Prisoner’ by Jean-Leon Gerome

Sexual discrimination and the right to enforce Directive 76/207/EEC when applying for a position was unprecedented within the European Community, and so when two well-qualified female social workers applied for similar posts at the Land Nordrhein-Westfalen (a male populated prison) and were refused employment on grounds of their gender, the Arbeitsgericht Hamm (German Labour Court) referred a number of questions to the European Court of Justice under art.177 EC. 

Having referred to the principles of Directive 76/207/EEC governing equal access to employment, training, promotion and working conditions, the claimants contended that denial of this particular post was tantamount to a breach of Member State obligations and that legal remedy should constitute either six months full pay or the creation of another position within the offer of employment. 

However German law had been amended to incorporate the Directive measures with a degree of discretion, inasmuch as proof of sexual discrimination within the recruitment process only provided resulting sanctions as one incurring travel costs and not those allowing compensatory damages or the employment provision sought. 

This led to the formulation of five interrelated questions, and which asked:

1. Whether under breach of the anti-discrimination Directive, was the employer liable to provide for, and offer, employment to those parties affected? 

2. If so, was it on grounds that the claimant could provide evidence of greater qualification than those required for the position applied for?

3. Was equal competence acceptable as grounds for the provision of additional employment, or was the claimant entitled to employment irrespective of qualifying ability? 

4. Did Directive 76/207/EEC provide clear instruction as to the form of remedy awarded where discrimination occurred, but no employment was required? 

5. Could the terms of the Directive be relied upon by an individual when the discrimination was between private individuals?

When examining the exactness of the Directive it was held by the European Court of Justice that while the effects of Community law and transposition of those Directives must observe and follow the principles expressed, where discriminatory acts are proven, the Commission did not intend that an employer was imposed with any obligation to create positions beyond those advertised. 

Thus in terms of legal clarity, the Court held that further national debate was needed in order to amend the legislation in line with a fair and balanced level of compensation, while it was also held that the terms of the Directive were too ambiguous as to offer individual powers to enforce against another party where such provisions were not already in place, before reminding the parties that:

“[D]irective No.76/207 does not require discrimination on grounds of sex regarding access to employment to be made the subject of a sanction by way of an obligation imposed upon the employer who is the author of the discrimination to conclude a contract of employment with the candidate discriminated against.”

Author: Neil Egan-Ronayne

Author, legal scholar and foodie...

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