Defrenne v SABENA [1976]

European Law

Defrenne v SABENA [1976]

The effects of art.119 EC and the stark inequality between men and women in the workplace were brought together in a case that showcased both the power of law and the equitability of the European Community.

Employed as an air hostess in 1963 by Belgian Société Anonyme Belge de Navigation Aérienne (SABENA), the appellant was re-contracted as a cabin steward and air hostess under the title of cabin attendant, however the contractual caveat was that unlike her male counterparts she was expected to retire from her duties at the age of forty, while termination of her employment entitled her to twelve months severance pay without pension rights.

Having been forced to retire as per the contract, the appellant initiated discrimination proceedings on a number of grounds including the assertion of her right to equal pay under the terms of art.119 EC which explains that:

“1. 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.”

And yet despite her contentions the Tribunal du Travail of Brussels dismissed her claims outright before her appeal to the Cour du Travail of Brussels was further dismissed with the exception of inequality of salary, however despite the court’s ability to overrule its own legislation in favour of the Treaty article, it chose instead to seek a preliminary ruling from the European Court of Justice.

For clarity, in 1957 the Treaty of Rome included the express requirement that every Member State would ensure and maintain the application of the principle that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work, and while the initial adoption period was set at two years, Belgium never amended its own legislation to reflect the values of the Treaty Article until 1967, in which s.14 of Royal Decree 40 enabled women in such situations the rights to seek remedy within the national courts.

On this occasion the Belgian government’s defence was that while art.119 conferred powers to those women paid less than men in similar roles, the effect of that principle  fell solely within the limitations of public office and not private contracts, however the claimant countered that by all accounts the direct effect of art.119 EC had existed since 1957 and so provided her with retrospective rights of recovery. 

Once before the European Court of Justice, the Advocate General clarified that direct effect relied upon the clarity of the regulation, and so when addressing sexual inequality it was clear how the principle’s purpose relied upon the differences cited, thus the Court held that going forward the national courts were to refrain from reference to art.177 EC in order to seek preliminary rulings when there was sufficient cause within art.119 EC to overrule domestic legislation under the rule of Community law, while reminding the parties that:

“Article 119, despite the fact that it is restricted to imposing an obligation on the States, is primarily concerned with the relationship between individuals. The discrimination which the provision sets out to prohibit will, in the majority of cases, consist of discriminatory action by a private undertaking against women workers.”

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.”

Marshall v Southampton and South West Area Health Authority (No.1) [1986]

European Law

Marshall v Southampton
‘Abstract Women 010’ by Corporate Art Task Force

Dismissal upon grounds of sexual discrimination and the direct effect of Community law Directives in issues of state employment were the key ingredients to this matter, when a former employee of the South-West Hampshire Area Health Authority was subjected to unexpected termination of her employment, despite intimations that her post was secure beyond policy requirements.

Having joined the department in 1974 the applicant had enjoyed working as a Senior Dietician until she reached the contracted retirement age (five years earlier than her male colleagues) at which point it was agreed that she could continue working although no specific end date was discussed, however the applicant was dismissed without notice two years later upon grounds that she was a woman and so considered beyond retirement age and surplus to requirements.

Immediately after her departure the applicant sought to challenge the decision through the enforcement of Council Directive 76/207/EEC, which supports the ‘principle of equal treatment’ inasmuch as art.1(1), (2), 2(1) and 5 collectively confer Member State obligations to apply and maintain the equal treatment of men and women with regard to employment, promotion, training, working conditions, social security, dismissal and the prohibition of any discrimination (whether directly or indirectly), while these rights applied to all manner of employment arrangements.

In the first instance the industrial tribunal denied her claim under the s.6(4) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which provided that discrimination by an employer was exempt under retirement conditions, and that the pensionable age of women under s.27(1) of the Social Security Act 1975 supported the age of retirement through the  availability of state pensions as of sixty years of age. 

Upon dismissal of her appeal she challenged the findings again, whereupon the Court of Appeal was forced to raise two questions with a view to a preliminary ruling under art.177 EC, namely: 

1. Whether the appellant’s dismissal after reaching retirement age on the basis that she was a woman constituted sexual discrimination under Directive 76/207?

2. That if so agreed, whether the terms of the Directive allowed for direct effect given the conflict between domestic legislation and Community law?

And so having referred the case to the European Court of Justice it was held that while the Health Authority relied upon the narrowness of meaning when determining the powers of legislation, they failed to appreciate that all Member States are obliged to adopt the principles of a Directive within a designated period (which on this occasion had long since elapsed), and that when doing so must adjust or if necessary, remove the applicable statute so as to give full effect to the meaning of the Directive. 

It was further noted how the Health Authority had sought to avoid the duties called for under Community law while expanding the terms of the Social Security Act 1975 beyond their meaning when deciding that pensionable age was a prerequisite to retirement, which amounted to nothing more than overt sexual discrimination against which the appellant had a valid and lawful right of claim.

Looking next to the effect of Directive 76/207/EEC it was argued by the Health Authority and the United Kingdom that the terms within were prescribed for the benefit or use of the Member State and not the individual, and that the terms of an non-implemented Directive excluded contracts between private parties. 

It was further argued that the State was entitled to be seen as a private employer for the purposes of the case, thus it was contended that the appellant was denied the right to bring action against the State and so a review of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was required before the continuation of proceedings. 

In stark contrast the Court upheld the appeal on grounds that a failure to adopt the Directive had rendered the Health Authority liable for penalty and thereby accountable at law as an emanation of the State, therefore a citizen could claim such rights within the domestic court in lieu of their non-implementation, before reminding the parties that:

“[W]herever the provisions of a Directive appear, as far as their subject matter is concerned, to be unconditional and sufficiently precise, those provisions may be relied upon by an individual against the State where that State fails to implement the Directive in national law by the end of the period prescribed or where it fails to implement the Directive correctly.”

Black and Morgan v Wilkinson (2013)

English Constitutional Law

Black and Morgan v Wilkinson
‘Breakfast in Bed’ by Mary Cassatt

Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and the right to manifest one’s religious beliefs lock horns in a case built around progressive lifestyles and the security of dogma.

Having established herself as the owner operator of a bed and breakfast, the appellant consciously took bookings on principles espoused through Christian teachings, one of which precluded the use of double rooms by those outside wedlock. While considered a practical and measured restriction, the appellant was often found letting out such rooms to unmarried couples, largely due to the difficulty in establishing their marital status at the time of agreement.

However, the footing of this matter rested upon a homosexual couple, who having secured the room via email, and duly paying the required deposit, arrived at the property, before finding themselves denied use of the double room on grounds of their sexual relationship and unmarried status (an impossible task at the time of this hearing).

At the point of litigation, the claimants argued that the appellant had unlawfully discriminated against them under the terms of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations Act 2007 (SI 2007/1263), in particular regulations 3 and 4, which read:

“3.(1) For the purposes of these Regulations, a person (“A”) discriminates against another (“B”) if, on grounds of the sexual orientation of B or any other person except A, A treats B less favourably than he treats or would treat others (in cases where there is no material difference in the relevant circumstances).

4. (1) It is unlawful for a person (“A”) concerned with the provision to the public or a section of the public of goods, facilities or services to discriminate against a person (“B”) who seeks to obtain or to use those goods, facilities or services”

While the appellant countered that she had refused the claimants use of the room under regulation 6, which reads:

“6.-(1) Regulation 4 does not apply to anything done by a person as a participant in arrangements under which he (for reward or not) takes into his home, and treats as if they were members of his family, children, elderly persons, or persons requiring a special degree of care and attention.”

Further arguing that her business fell outside the scope of a boarding house, as expressed in regulation 4(2)(b) of the same statutory instrument.

During the first hearing, the court refused to uphold her claim and found her liable for sexual discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, whereupon the defendant argued her case in the Court of Appeal.

Here, the facts were given greater consideration, including various articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). With regard to exemption from regulation 4(b), the Court observed that in Otter v Norman the House of Lords had ruled that:

“[T]he provision of breakfast by itself, with the implicit inclusion of the ancillary services involved in preparing it and the provision of crockery and cutlery with which to eat it, amounted to “board” within the meaning of section 7(1) [of the Rent Act 1977].”

However, with careful observation of regulation 6(1), it was noted by the Court that the claimants were anything but members of her family, children, elderly persons of those requiring special degree of care and attention. The appellant also relied upon Preddy v Bull for her contention that her refusal of the respondents occupation was one based upon an objection to sexual behaviour, and not orientation; yet sadly the parties involved were in a civil partnership, which distinguished it from the immediate case.

Turning instead to proportionality for justification, the appellant relied upon arts.8 (Right to respect and private family life) and 9 (Freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the ECHR for her right to exclusion, while the respondents relied upon arts.8 and 14 (Prohibition of discrimination) to uphold their right to occupation.

It was then noted that while art.9(1) provides for religious manifestation, art.9(2) also provides that restrictions apply when preserving the rights of others, which on this occasion worked against the appellant, as she was by all accounts, running a commercial enterprise, and which under a Government paper titled “Getting Equal: Proposals to outlaw sexual orientation discrimination in the provision of goods and services, Government Response to Consultation” it was outlined on page 13 that:

“The Government contends that where businesses are open to the public on a commercial basis, they have to accept the public as it is constituted.”

While it was also stressed in Eweida and others v United Kingdom that:

“Even where the belief in question attains the required level of cogency and importance, it cannot be said that every act which is in some way inspired, motivated or influenced by it constitutes a ‘manifestation’ of the belief.”

And so despite any freedom to manifest one’s religious beliefs when operating a licensed business to paying customers, indirect discrimination through the application of a policy denying equal rights to those in homosexual relationships amounted to a uniform ruling of direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, while the appeal court held that:

“[D]irect discrimination cannot be justified, whereas indirect discrimination can be justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”