Achbita and Bougnaoui: raising more questions than answers

Case Comment: Case C157/15 Samira Achbita and Centrum voor gelijkheid van kansen en voor racismebestrijding v G4S Secure Solutions NV and C-188/15 Asma Bougnaoui Association de défense des droits de l’homme (ADDH) v Micropole SA

Samira Achbita and Asma Bougnaoui were both fired for wearing an Islamic headscarf in the workplace. In its Grand Chamber ruling of March 14th the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that internal company rules banning the wearing of visible religious, political or philosophical symbols do not constitute direct discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. It also developed some criteria according to which indirect discrimination can be legitimate and objective.

The case Achbita has already attracted critical attention (see HERE, HERE and HERE). Indeed, it is of great significance. Advocate General Kokott sets out the core question in her Opinion:

“Is a private employer permitted to prohibit a female employee of Muslim faith from wearing a headscarf in the workplace? And is that employer permitted to dismiss her if she refuses to remove the headscarf at work? These are, in essence, the questions which the Court must answer, for the first time in the present case, from the point of view of EU law, and, more specifically, in the light of the prohibition on discrimination based on religion or belief.”(para 1)

Developments with regard to the wearing of religious symbols and clothing are being closely watched across Europe and remain subject to ongoing discussions and political debate. The key question is whether and how this ruling of the CJEU provides a judicial space for employers to ban the wearing of religious symbols in the workplace.

The cases concerned Belgian and French women employees who were fired for wearing an Islamic headscarf. In the case of Achbita the preliminary question referred asked how Article 2(2)(a) 1 and 2 of Employment Framework Directive 2000/78 on equal treatment in employment and occupation must be interpreted. The core question was whether the prohibition on wearing an Islamic headscarf, set out in the general internal rules of a private company, is direct discrimination.

In its assessment, the CJEU found that the internal rules at issue banned all visible religious, political or philosophical symbols and that they applied in the same way to all employers so as to secure a neutral company image. The internal rules were applied without distinction, explicitly prohibiting the wearing of any visible sign of political or philosophical beliefs not just visible signs of religious beliefs. Therefore, the court concluded that the ban at issue could not be regarded as direct discrimination in the sense of Directive 2000/78.

The CJEU however recognised the possibility that such an internal rule could lead to indirect discrimination. This would be the case if the rules were capable of putting individuals of certain religions or beliefs at a particular disadvantage in comparison with other employees. Nonetheless, it held an indirect difference of treatment may be objectively justified by a legitimate aim, provided that the measure at issue is appropriate and necessary for achieving that aim.

In its ruling the CJEU thus concludes that the aim of an employer to present a neutral image towards its clients is legitimate, as long as these rules refer only to employees in direct contact with clients. The CJEU concludes that the national court is to determine if and to what extent the company rules comply with these requirements in practice.

Comment

This ruling is interesting from many points of view.

First of all, the considerable weight given to a company’s desire to promote a neutral appearance seems somewhat curious. It appears to contradict the ECtHR judgment in the case of Eweida and Others v. the United Kingdom where the Strasbourg Court ruled that there had been a violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief when Ms Eweida was not permitted to wear a crucifix at work. The ECtHR in Eweida considered that on one side was Ms Eweida’s desire to manifest her religious belief and on the other was the employer’s wish to project a certain corporate image, and that a fair balance had not been struck. Although the human rights court recognized that the employer’s wish to project a certain corporate image could be regarded as a legitimate aim, it found that the national court accorded it too much weight.

It could be argued that in contrast to Eweida, the ruling of CJEU provides more space for employers to ban the wearing of religious symbols in the workspace without violating the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief. The ruling could be understood as confirming that the mere wish of a company to present itself in a neutral way is an objective justification for a different treatment of employees .

Second, it is remarkable that the CJEU extensively studies whether the objective is legitimate and the requirement is proportionate but at the same time fails to examine the proper balance between the desire of the employee to manifest her religious belief and the employer’s wish of a neutral workplace environment. On this issue Advocate General Kokott delivered the following opinion in para 127

it is for the referring court to strike a fair balance between the conflicting interests, taking into account all the relevant circumstances of the case, in particular the size and conspicuousness of the religious symbol, the nature of the employee’s activity and the context in which she must perform her activity, as well as the national identity of Belgium“.

The question is whether the omission of the CJEU to examine the said fair balance provides enough guidance to enable national judges to determine whether a company ban on wearing visible religious, political or philosophical symbols, can be regarded as indirect discrimination. Or does it simply push this hot potato onto the plate of the national judges?

Third, it seems curious that in its assessment on whether or not the company’s internal rules can be considered a legitimate aim, the court primarily (maybe even solely?) focuses on the fundamental right of freedom to conduct a business (Article 16 CFR). Why, for example, idoes it not mention the right to work in Article 31(1): Every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her … dignity?. It seems that the reasoning of the Grand Chamber, and the way in which it weighs the various relevant elements, remains implicit at best – but perhaps is simply incomplete. This is problematic in such an important case.

In Bougnaoui, the core of the preliminary question was whether Article 4 (2) of Directive 2000/78 must be interpreted as meaning that the preference of a customer to receive services from a company employee who does not wear an Islamic headscarf can be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement.

The ruling of the CJEU on this question is clear. It concluded that in the absence of any company rule, the mere desire of an employer to take into account the wishes of a customer to ban religious symbols is direct discrimination. Such a ban cannot be regarded as a genuine and determining occupational requirement within the meaning of the Framework Directive.

Various NGO’s have already claimed that the ruling of the CJEU legitimizes discrimination, in particular towards Muslim women. As for now it will depend on the national courts and law-makers to set out the conditions under which an internal company rule can ban religious clothing from the workplace.

Monique Steijns

Monique works within the Dutch Ministry of the Interior as an adviser on constitutional law and human rights. Monique studied law at the University of Amsterdam. She is part of the Netherlands Committee of Jurists for Human Rights and chairperson of the working group Constitutional and Administrative law.

Monique contributes in a personal capacity; the opinions expressed cannot in any way be attributed to the Dutch government.

“I want my Country Back!”: Equality, Discrimination and Xenophobia after the Referendum

Diamond Ashiagbor*

We’ve been asked to offer some personal reflections, hopefully mediated by scholarly insight, on the UK referendum vote on EU membership. The quotation in my title comes from the rallying cry of the “Leave” campaign. The resonance of that slogan with the claim of Donald Trump to “Make America Great Again” is telling, as both imply a nostalgia, or rather a fantasy, for a lost state: one which is fully “sovereign”, unfettered by international or supranational obligations, freed from the constraints of a liberalised global trading regime whose rules it had been responsible for crafting, and – most significantly – almost entirely free from migrants.

Before the Vote

I voted “Remain” in the UK referendum for all the obvious reasons. Because I believe the EU, for all its faults and its challenges to the “embedded liberal bargain” which many Member States had been able to strike within their national economies, represents the best chance for cross-national solidarity and some defence against unfettered global capital. Because I didn’t want to see the most openly racist political campaign that I can recall since coming to the UK in 1975 as – yes – a migrant, succeed. Because I think the UK’s social and economic ills (the housing crisis, with housing-cost inflation outstripping stagnant wages, the lack of investment in social housing, the prevalence of a high-cost, high-turnover private rented sector; the underfunding of the National Health Service; vicious austerity policies; and the failure to alleviate the devastating social costs of the post-industrial decline) are the fault of elected national politicians not the fault of the EU or of immigrants. Because I would like to hope that the UK could remain a (relatively) open, reflective, socially progressive country.

 False Statements and First Impressions

 The key legislation governing eligibility to vote and the conduct of elections in the UK, consolidating and replacing earlier statutes, is the Representation of the People Act (RPA) 1983. The European Referendum Act 2015, in Section 4, made provision to incorporate most aspects of electoral law from the RPA 1983 into the referendum process. However, whilst Section 106 of the RPA makes it an offence to make false statements “for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election”, there was no attempt to introduce a false statement offence tailored to the different circumstances of a referendum vote – i.e., where voters are not choosing between candidates, but between different answers to a question.

Opinions vary as to the merits of attempting legislatively to compel a form of “truth in political advertising” – e.g., the risks to freedom of speech and the risk of the judicialisation of politics versus the reality of the weakness of political sanctions and the weakness of the media role in generating informed debate. But it is certainly the case that the absence of any real guidance to voters during a febrile referendum campaign left voters, as Claus Offe notes in this paper, to their own individual means of will formation.

As it was, the Leave campaign blatantly lied about an imminent accession to the EU of Turkey, about the UK’s net contribution, about eurozone bailouts, about the mechanics of trade, about the NHS, about threats to national security, and, of course, about immigration. It was relatively silent about, or downplayed, the impact of a “Leave” vote on the markets, Sterling, the union and the retention of Scotland within that union, the border with the Republic of Ireland, the Gibraltar/Spain border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations in order to retain membership of the single market, the ease and impact of negotiating trade deals with non-EU states, the status of UK citizens in other EU states, EU citizens in the UK, acquired rights, and the status of legislation transposed from EU law under the authority of the European Communities Act 1972. They were also dismissive of “experts”: economists, foreign policy analysts, legal scholars and practitioners, historians, other Europeans, and world leaders.

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The CJEU’s Headscarves cases: analysis of the contrasting AG opinions

Darryl HutcheonDarryl Hutcheon

Conflicts between the religious practices of workers and the ‘neutrality’ policies of their employers have repeatedly come before the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) and domestic courts in the UK. They now arise for the first time before the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) in two cases: C-188/15 Bougnaoui v Micropole SA and C-157/15 Achbita v G4S Secure Solutions NV80. This note analyses the opinion of Advocate General Sharpston in Bougnaoui handed down on 13 July 2016; contrasts that opinion with the earlier opinion[1] of AG Kokott in Achbita; and considers what these decisions tell us about the future trajectory of EU (and domestic) discrimination law.

Facts in both cases

Ms Bougnaoui and Ms Achbita are Muslim women who were employed in customer-facing roles by private sector employers. Both wore headscarves but wore nothing which covered their faces. Ms Bougnaoui was told that her headscarf had ‘embarrassed’ the employees of a company client she had visited; she was dismissed when she refused to agree not to wear a headscarf on future visits to that client. Ms Achbita had worked for her employer for some time before she started to wear a headscarf; she was then dismissed on the basis that her new practice breached a strict company ‘neutrality’ policy.

AG Sharpston’s opinion in Bougnaoui

Several aspects of AG Sharpston’s opinion are worthy of comment.

First, she rejected the suggestion that EU law on religious discrimination ought precisely to reflect the ECtHR’s article 9 (freedom of religion) jurisprudence, in effect by allowing a human rights justification/proportionality defence to direct discrimination claims ([58] – [67]). AG Sharpston maintained that the Framework Directive 2000/78 (“the Directive”) set down a clear distinction: indirect discrimination can be defended by reference to proportionality, but direct discrimination admits of (much) narrower exceptions.[2] Her position stands in contrast to the view expressed by some senior judges in the UK that the lack of a general justification defence to direct discrimination is a “defect” in the law: see e.g. R (E) v Governing Body of JFS [2009] UKSC 15 at [9].

Second, AG Sharpston concluded that the decision to dismiss Ms Bougnaoui constituted direct, and not just indirect, discrimination ([83] – [89]). “Religion” for these purposes included manifestations of religion like wearing a headscarf. The judgment does not directly engage with the question of how courts should identify whether a particular act constitutes a “manifestation of religion”, but the case-law of the ECtHR on that subject will doubtlessly be persuasive. The recognition that religion is not just a status but an identity partly constituted by acts is intuitively attractive and compares favourably to the sometimes strained efforts of British judges to dissociate “religion” from acts which are obviously part and parcel of a person’s religion.[3] It leaves open the interesting question of whether EU law will permit employers to sanction employees whose religiously-motivated behaviour impacts negatively on other employees or on their work (as in the well-known “evangelising at work” cases). English courts have addressed this situation by distinguishing action taken because of religion/religious manifestations and action taken because of “the way in which (a worker) manifested or shared it”.[4] AG Sharpston’s opinion can probably be reconciled with that approach.

Third, AG Sharpston concluded that there was no basis to conclude that article 4(1) of the Directive (the genuine occupational requirement defence to direct discrimination claims) applied on the facts ([90] – [102]). It was decisive that Ms Bougnaoui remained perfectly able to perform her professional duties. Notably, AG Sharpston found it “hard to envisage” any application of the article 4(1) defence in religious discrimination claims, other than on health and safety grounds ([99]). She also gave a narrow reading to article 2(5) of the Directive (pursuant to which the Directive is subject to national measures which are necessary in pursuit of various public policy objectives), suggesting it could not be relied on by employers citing business reasons ([104] – [105]).

Fourth, AG Sharpston remarked on the application of the principles of indirect discrimination (in case the Court concluded that her characterisation of the claim as direct discrimination was mistaken). While an employer’s business reasons could constitute a legitimate aim, the question of proportionality was more complex ([134]). These kinds of issues could ordinarily be resolved by discussion between employer and employee; but ultimately, where an employer stood to lose out because of the prejudiced attitudes of its customers, “the business interest in generating maximum profit should… give way to the right of the individual employee to manifest his religious convictions” ([133]).

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Kaltoft – a step (in the wrong direction?) towards protection from weight discrimination under EU law

Dr Iyiola Solanke

Over the last two to three decades the prevalence of overweight and obese[1] people has become a major public health issue across countries, age-groups, class, race and ethnicity. As long ago as 2003, research estimated that 61% of Americans were overweight, and 20% were obese. In 2006, the OECD ranked Britain’s overweight and obesity rate (62%) as the worst in Europe and the third-worst in the world, behind Mexico (69.5%) and the U.S (67.3%). In 2008, more than 1.4 billion adults were overweight, including over 200 million obese men and nearly 300 obese million women. More than 40 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2011. Children and adults are getting fatter.

The rise in body size is a public health issue because of its cost: medical experts link numerous ailments to excess weight, such as diabetes, angina, osteoarthritis, stroke, gout, gall bladder disease, breast cancer, cancer of the colon and ovarian cancer. Overweight and obese people are said to be more prone to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic depression and many other life threatening conditions. An overweight child is likely to become an overweight adult. The cost to the public purse could be billions of pounds.

The CJEU has now confirmed that obesity is also a matter for equality law. EU law does not formally prohibit fattism – like other public health issues, this remains within the competence of the member states[2] – but in the first case of its kind, the CJEU decided that discrimination on the grounds of obesity can fall within the disability strand of the Equal Treatment Directive 2000/78. This was stated in answer to questions arising before a Danish court during a case concerning the weight of a childminder.

Kaltoft

Mr Kaltoft was hired by the Municipality of Billund in 1998 on a permanent contract as a childminder. He was obese at the time of his initial employment and, despite periods of weight loss, remained such throughout his 15 years in this post. From March 2010, he appeared to be under informal review, being visited by his boss and asked about his weight. During 2010, when the number of children in Billund fell, he was given fewer children to look after. That same year, he was chosen to be dismissed. When Kaltoft asked why he was the only childminder to be dismissed, he was told it was due to his decreased workload. Kaltoft was convinced that it had something to do with his weight.

His trade union brought an action before the District Court seeking compensation for him, arguing that he had been subjected to weight discrimination. The Danish court stayed proceedings to ask the CJ four questions, of which only the first and fourth were answered: whether it is contrary to EU law (for example Article 6 TEU on fundamental rights) for a public-sector employer to discriminate on grounds of obesity in the labour market; and whether obesity could be deemed to be a disability covered by Directive 2000/78/EC.

The first question was dealt with relatively swiftly: the Fourth Chamber of the Court of Justice did not emulate the boldness of the Grand Chamber in Mangold but citing Chacon Navas and Coleman declared that ‘EU law must be interpreted as not laying down a general principle of non-discrimination on grounds of obesity as such…’[40]. The Fourth Chamber then considered whether obesity is a disability. Its reasoning began from the purpose of Directive 2000/78: to set out a ‘general framework for combating discrimination, as regards employment and occupation, on any of the grounds referred to in that article, which include disability.’ It then noted the meaning of direct discrimination in this Directive and its scope of application – per Article 3(1)(c) it covers all persons in the public and private sectors, and all phases of employment including dismissals. Citing HK Danmark and Glatzel, where the CJ – taking inspiration from the EU ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – stated that

53…the concept of ‘disability’ must be understood as referring to a limitation which results in particular from long-term physical, mental or psychological impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers

It concluded that in order to be compatible with Directive 2000/78, the concept of ‘disability’ a)‘must be understood as referring not only to the impossibility of exercising a professional activity, but also to a hindrance to the exercise of such an activity’ [54] and moreover that b) the concept had to be open-ended in relation to the ‘origin of the disability’ [55] – it could not be dependent upon ‘the extent to which the person may or may not have contributed to the onset of his disability.’ [56] Thus while obesity itself is not a ‘disability’ within the meaning of Directive 2000/78 [58], it decided that obesity could be covered by the concept of ‘disability’ in that Directive where

  1. ‘the obesity of the worker concerned entails a limitation which results in particular from physical, mental or psychological impairments that in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers, and the limitation is a long-term one, obesity can be covered by the concept of ‘disability’ within the meaning of Directive 2000/78.
  2. Such would be the case, in particular, if the obesity of the worker hindered his full and effective participation in professional life on an equal basis with other workers on account of reduced mobility or the onset, in that person, of medical conditions preventing him from carrying out his work or causing discomfort when carrying out his professional activity.

It was left for the Danish court to decide whether, despite the fact that he was able to work effectively for 15 years as a childminder, his obesity during his term of employment nonetheless limited Kaltoft in the way envisaged by the EU concept of ‘disability’. He would then have to prove that his dismissal was because of his obesity. Continue reading

Very private lives: “acceptable questioning” in sexual orientation asylum cases

Anita Davies

The CJEU’s judgment in the case of A, B and C is due by the end of the year. Ahead of the expected judgment, this post recaps the opinion handed down by Advocate General Sharpston in July.

In February 2014 The Guardian published details of the lines of questioning used by the UK Home Office in questioning gay and lesbian asylum seekers. The questions considered appropriate to ask vulnerable asylum seekers were shocking; including queries such as “what is it about men’s backsides that attracts you?”.

The Home Office’s prurient interest in the very private lives of asylum seekers has been attributed in part to the Supreme Court judgment in HJ (Iran) and HT (Cameroon) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] UKSC 31, where the Court found that asylum could not be refused on the basis that an individual would not face persecution due to their sexuality if they behaved with discretion when returned. The onus in questioning therefore shifted from conditions facing gay communities in the country of return to proving sexual orientation, resulting in the Home Office seeking to verify sexual orientation via intrusive questioning. Verifying sexual orientation in asylum claims is an issue that a number of EU states have sought to deal with, and Advocate General Sharpston’s opinion in ABC constitutes guidance as to what is considered acceptable questioning. However, as will be seen below, Sharpston’s opinion has to grapple with the central problem: how do you legally “verify” human sexuality? By its very nature sexuality is impossible to “prove” by reference to anything other than what an individual considers their sexuality to be.

  1. B and C were individuals who submitted asylum claims to the Netherlands authorities on the grounds of a well founded fear of being persecuted in their respective countries of origin because they were gay men. All were refused on the basis that their claims of sexual orientation were not “credible”. Two of the applicants had gone to some lengths to prove their sexual orientation: C had submitted a video depicting him performing sexual acts with a man, and A had been willing to submit to a test to prove that he was gay.

In her opinion, Advocate General Sharpston sought to set out some guidelines as to what was an appropriate method for assessing declared sexual orientation, and if the limits were different from the limits applied to an assessment of the credibility of other grounds of persecution. Sharpston recognised that an “individual’s sexual orientation is a complex matter, entwined inseparably with his identity, that falls within the private sphere of his life” [38], therefore, an applicant’s averred sexual orientation must always be the starting point in assessing a claim, however:

The competent national authorities are entitled to examine that element of his claim together with all other elements in order to assess whether he has a well-founded fear of persecution within the meaning of the Qualification Directive and the Geneva Convention.

It therefore follows ineluctably that applications for refugee status on the grounds of sexual orientation, like any other applications for refugee status, are subject to a process of assessment as required by Article 4 of the Qualification Directive. That assessment must, however, be carried out in a way that respects the individual’s rights as guaranteed by the Charter.” [48 -49]

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The sudden emergence of Charter principles in the Glatzel judgment of the CJEU

european-union-flags-at-t-0021Jasper Krommendijk

The judgment of 22 May 2014 in Glatzel is the first judgment in which the CJEU explicitly discussed article 51(1) and 52(5) of the Charter on Fundamental Rights, which distinguishes between (individual) rights and (programmatic) principles.

In Glatzel, the CJEU issued a preliminary ruling on the request of a German court about the compatibility with the Charter of Annex III to Directive 2006/126/EC (amended by Directive 2009/113/EC) laying down minimum standards relating to the physical fitness to drive a motor vehicle as regards visual acuity. The German court asked whether those physical conditions for drivers constitute discrimination on the grounds of disability and, hence, violate the principle of equal treatment (Article 20 of the Charter), and more specifically, the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of discrimination (Article 21(1)) as well as the principle of integrating of integrating persons with disabilities (Article 26). The CJEU eventually concluded that it did not have sufficient information to conclude that the Annex is invalid.

There are several interesting points which could be looked at more closely, such as the way in which the CJEU used the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (para. 45, 68-72) as well as the way in which the CJEU carefully examined whether there is an objective justification of different treatment (see below). These two issues –the application of the CRPD and the elaborate justification test- have been the focus of previous judgments of the CJEU (see for example for the former, Z (Case C-363/12 [2014]).

I. The distinction between rights and principles: a background and earlier cases of the CJEU

This post will, however, scrutinise the novel feature of this judgment: the fact that the CJEU has expressed itself for the first time on Article 51(1) and Article 52(5) of the Charter. These provisions make a distinction between rights and principles in the Charter. Article 51(1) provides:

The provisions of this Charter are addressed to the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union with due regard for the principle of subsidiarity and to the Member States only when they are implementing Union law. They shall therefore respect the rights, observe the principles and promote the application thereof in accordance with their respective powers and respecting the limits of the powers of the Union as conferred on it in the Treaties.

Article 52(5) stipulates:

The provisions of this Charter which contain principles may be implemented by legislative and executive acts taken by institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union, and by acts of Member States when they are implementing Union law, in the exercise of their respective powers. They shall be judicially cognisable only in the interpretation of such acts and in the ruling on their legality.

The inclusion of these provisions and this distinction between rights and principles was primarily the result of the opposition of UK, and also some other countries like the Denmark and the Netherlands, to the inclusion in the Charter of ‘social rights’ as legally enforceable claims. The UK eventually agreed with the inclusion of the Charter into the draft Constitution on the condition that the distinction between rights and principles was further clarified. The distinction was thus the result of a hard won battle and formed a crucial element in the Charter’s adoption. Continue reading

Case Comment: CD v ST and Z v A Government Department & Ors (C-167/12 and C-363/12)

Michèle Finck, University of Oxford

Human procreation is not longer what it used to be. While medical research has created a number of mechanisms that allow people to engage in sexual intimacy without a resulting pregnancy, it also allows those wishing to procreate but who are unable to do so biologically to have children. IVF and surrogacy in many ways challenge our conception of human procreation. Naturally, the law needs to adapt to these changes.  Surrogacy in particular however raises a number of value-laden questions, which complicates the law’s response to these medical avenues. It is thus not surprising that no homogenous position exists between Member States on this issue.

In the CD and Z cases, the CJEU had to pronounce itself on how to reconcile surrogacy with an existing legal framework on maternity leave that did not account for motherhood resulting from that mechanism. More precisely, it was faced with the question of whether a mother who did not give birth to her own child, born via a surrogate, has a right to maternity leave under EU law. Family law is not a EU competence. Maternity leave is, however, regulated by the Pregnant Workers Directive (PWD) and some aspects arising out of motherhood and employment are addressed by the Sex Discrimination Directive. In Mayr, the CJEU had already clarified that the Sex Discrimination Directive is applicable to workers undergoing IVF that have not yet been successful.

In CD and Z, the Grand Chamber established that, as a matter of EU law, only women who themselves give birth to the child can benefit from maternity leave. Two Advocates General, Wahl and Kokott, issued opinions and came to opposed conclusions. The Court followed Advocate General Wahl in its judgment. Applying Mayr, it found that the PWD only applies to women who are in fact pregnant. The Sex Discrimination Directive was found not to be applicable either as the commissioning mother of a surrogacy agreement would be in the same position as a commissioning father. Having found that the question fell outside of the ambit of EU law, the CJEU also found the Charter of Fundamental Rights to be inapplicable. In the Z judgment, the CJEU further clarified that the Framework Equality Directive and its provisions on disabilities do not apply to women unable to become or carry out a pregnancy as the directive only targets disabilities that render a worker’s involvement in professional life more burdensome, which is not the case for medical conditions that prevent women from getting pregnant or carrying out a pregnancy. Continue reading

‘Exposing a Grave Injustice’: Montreal Exclusivity and the Rights of Disabled Passengers: Stott v Thomas Cook [2014] UKSC 15

Dr Jeremias Prassl

On March 5, 2014 the Supreme Court handed down its judgment in Stott v Thomas Cook (previewed for the UK Supreme Court blog last autumn here). The case had attracted significant interest domestically and internationally, with the claimant supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the Secretary of State for Transport intervening on his behalf.

Facts

During a journey from Zante, Greece, to East Midlands Airport in the autumn of 2009, the claimant Mr Stott, paralysed and permanently dependent on a wheelchair, suffered from a breach of his rights under the EU’s Disability Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006, as implemented in the United Kingdom by the Civil Aviation (Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility) Regulations 2007 (SI 2007/1895). The trial judge assessed compensation at £2,500 but saw himself unable to make such an award due to the exclusive application of the Montreal Convention of 1999 (‘MC’).

Thomas Cook had relied on that international convention’s uniform rules governing liability under the contract of carriage by air, suggesting that their exclusive scope of application was a well-established principle in domestic, European Union and international law and that passengers could therefore not seek redress under domestic law. Article 29 MC stipulates that

In the carriage of passengers, baggage and cargo, any action for damages, however founded, whether under this Convention or in contract or in tort or otherwise, can only be brought subject to the conditions and such limits of liability as are set out in this Convention […]

The United Kingdom is a contracting party to the Montreal Convention, the provisions of which have also been incorporated into EU law by Regulation (EC) 889/2002. Giving the only substantive judgment for the Court of Appeal, Maurice Kay LJ had found in favour of the airlines on the basis of Article 29 MC:

The real injuries to [the claimants’] feelings […] were sustained at times when the Montreal Convention governed their situations. Its exclusivity both provided and limited their rights and remedies. Accordingly, their claims for compensation for injury to feelings could not succeed. [54]

Judgment

Judgment for the Supreme Court was given by Lord Toulson, with whom Lady Hale and Lords Neuberger, Reed and Hughes agreed. Following a summary of the facts and the relevant provisions in domestic and European Union law, his Lordship turned to a discussion of the Montreal Convention, ‘Article 29 [of which] is the rock on which Mr Stott’s claim for damages foundered’ [32].

Counsel for Mr Stott had suggested that the exclusivity question raised an important point of EU law and that the MC should not be applicable to the present case, which fell outside both its substantive and temporal scope. This could be illustrated by reference to joined Cases C‑581/10 and C‑629/10 Nelson and TUI Travel plc and Case C-344/04 ex parte IATA, where the CJEU had repeatedly found that the provisions of Regulation 261/2004 for compensation and assistance to passengers in case of delayed or cancelled flights were not incompatible with the MC, but rather a complementary regime of passenger protection. In rejecting this point, and the related request for a preliminary reference under Article 267 TFEU, Lord Toulson suggested that EU law as such was not engaged, or in any way manifestly clear, as the CJEU had held in ex parte IATA [at paragraph 42], that claims for damages on an individual basis would be subject to MC exclusivity, and Mr Stott’s claim was so founded.

Counsel for the Secretary of State for Transport, on the other hand, focussed on the temporal dimension of the claim, suggesting that the Regulations had been breached long before Mr and Mrs Stott’s embarkation. This argument, too, was rejected: on the facts, the actual injury had taken place only once aboard the aircraft, and also to avoid ‘encourag[ing] deft pleading in order to circumvent the purpose of the Convention’ [60]. Lord Toulson adopted the reasoning of Sotomayor CJ in King v American Airlines (see discussion below), and held that the quality of the cause of action was irrelevant: the Montreal Convention was designed comprehensively to deal with air carriers’ liability from the moment of embarkation until disembarkation. Continue reading

Jobless EU migrants and housing benefit

Dr Iyiola Solanke

According to reports from the BBC, ‘jobless migrants from within the European Union will be denied access to housing benefit from April this year’. Housing benefit is an ‘in –work’ benefit which provides support with rent for those who are unemployed or on a low income. As it is means tested, it may not cover all rent costs. It is administered through local councils to private and social landlords. Universal credit[1] will replace housing benefit in 2015. Before then, both Home Secretary Theresa May and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith intend to introduce plans to ‘prevent exploitation of the UK welfare system’ by ‘jobless’ EU migrants.

Research[2] suggests that EU migrants are less likely than UK nationals to claim any form of benefits so the prevention of exploitation by targeting EU migrants is questionable. Furthermore, who are the jobless EU migrants – are they a composite group? Finally, as these measures will not apply to jobless nationals, would such action be compatible with EU law? There is indeed little free movement for jobless migrants under EU law[3] but when is an EU migrant ‘jobless’?

The ‘Jobless’

Focusing on the ‘jobless’ draws a broad distinction between this group and EU migrant ‘workers’: the former have few rights under EU law while the latter have many. Article 45 TFEU provides free movement to workers within the EU. A worker under EU law is a person who is employed: in Lawrie Blum and Collins the CJEU defined a worker as a person who provides services under direction of another for remuneration. The work itself must constitute a ‘genuine economic activity’: in Steymann the provision of maintenance tasks for was seen as such whereas in Bettray work conducted as part of a rehabilitation scheme was not. The number of hours worked and level of salary are irrelevant to the definition.[4]

The Citizenship Directive (CD) adopted in 2004 guarantees migrant EU workers and other ‘qualified persons’[5] equal treatment with nationals in the territory of a host member state. Migrant EU workers benefit from non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality – they and their family members are to be treated in the same way as any national worker, in relation to work, education and access to benefits. Conditions for this equal treatment are set out in Chapter III of the CD. Continue reading

Case Comment: Hay (C-267/12)

Michèle Finck, University of Oxford

2013 has been described as ‘the greatest year in gay rights history’. While this statement might be somewhat exaggerated, at least in the EU, important progress has been achieved. Also across the Atlantic, in the U.S., a number of States have legalized gay marriage, the Supreme Court has handed down a historic gay marriage ruling, and the federal legislature might, finally, pass legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation after the Senate’s approval.

Also in Europe, society and legal orders mirror an increased acceptance of homosexuality. Recently, a new government took office in Luxembourg, headed by an openly gay Prime Minister and an openly gay Deputy Prime Minister, making it only the third country in the world that was ever headed by a person not representing themselves as heterosexual (after Belgium and Iceland). Same-sex couples will be able to marry in England and Wales from March 2014.  Also, in 2013 France legalized gay marriage and adoption. A few weeks ago, the CJEU handed down an important judgment regarding homosexual asylum seekers. Over the past year, same-sex marriage bills were introduced in the United Kingdom, Finland, and Luxembourg. Ireland held a constitutional convention on the issue of gay marriage and will organize a referendum on the matter in 2015. Continue reading