In an unprecedented case an Italian court said EU and Italian laws are clear

The Court of first instance of Rovereto (North Italy) ruled on June 21 that a teacher was discriminated against on the ground of her alleged sexual orientation and that the behaviour also represented a collective discrimination. The judge Cuccaro ordered the Institute of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, owner of the Catholic school in Trent, pay 25 000 euros for economic and moral damages to the teacher and 1 500 euros to the trade union and the Radical Association Certi diritti each.

The facts

The teacher’s contract was not renewed a fifth time in September 2014 following an interview where the manager of the school reported rumours about her private life and asked her to confirm or deny the allegations. She refused to respond to an inquiry into her private life and said the matter was absolutely irrelevant to her professional evaluation. The school offered to nevertheless to tolerate her non-conforming private life, if she accepted to commit to ‘solve the problem’. The teacher left the building outraged and her contract was not renewed.

The case made national headlines. As ascertained by the judge, the school gave several versions in justification of their action, including the right to not place gay people in contact with minors. Eventually the Institute even accused the teacher of gay propaganda in school and reported of troubled pupils, defamatory and false allegations that the School did not even try to demonstrate in the proceedings.

Relevance of the case

The court found in favour of the teacher and of the two organisations that brought the collective complaint, awarding a substantial sum. He also ordered the judgment be published in two newspapers.

It is the very first case finding individual discrimination on ground of sexual orientation in the Italian system and the first considering the margin of ‘discrimination’ an employer the ethos of which is based on religion or belief has under EU Directive 2000/78. The judge made clear that one’s sexual orientation and private life has nothing to do with the preservation of the organisation’s ethos and discrimination on those grounds is unlawful.

Alexander Schuster was the counsel in the case and considers it a great achievement: “The margin to be awarded under EU law to religious organisation is a grey area. Transposition of this part of the Directive in the Member States was problematic at least. This judgment finally shed lights on the fact that those organisations do not have a carte blanche, but must abide by the law. This ruling is not just about sexual orientation. It guarantees the respect for private life and intimate choices of any employee. Divorce, contraception, cohabitation are all private matters and no intrusion and discrimination is allowed.”

The ruling became public today and is subject to appeal within 30 days.