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03 June 2009
In implementing the principle of equal treatment for men and women in employment matters, the Supreme Court has recognized the right of an equal opportunities adviser(1) to act as an aggrieved party in criminal proceedings and to claim damages as an interested party in a case arising from collective discrimination in the workplace.(2)
The case related to harassment suffered by a group of female employees (ground hostesses) who were repeatedly insulted by their supervisor. In addition, the supervisor made unwelcome personal advances to them and assigned burdensome tasks that were generally repetitive and less important than the duties assigned to other colleagues. The court considered whether the equal opportunities adviser had a direct right to bring an action as an injured party. The law required the adviser to uphold employees' rights to equal treatment and to protect them from gender discrimination in the workplace.
The Equal Treatment Code(3) protects the rights of individuals and the professional dignity of employees. Articles 37(1) and (2) empower an equal opportunities adviser to report collective discriminatory behaviour, whether direct or indirect, to an employment tribunal or an administrative judicial officer with the aim of stopping the offending conduct and, if possible, pursuing compensation claims for non-material damages.(4) The court held that an equal opportunities adviser can claim damages as an injured party with a cause of action in his or her own right, not merely as one of a group of claimants with a common interest in a class action.
The decision follows the court's earlier ruling that trade unions may seek compensation in their own right if an employee is a victim of sexual violence in the workplace, as trade unions are charged with protecting the rights of employees at work.(5)
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