European Court: Male civil servants discriminated against in France

Court of justice EU

European Court of Justice. Luxembourg, February 2010. [Gwenael Piaser/Flickr]

The European Court of Justice has pointed the finger at unequal retirement plans between men and women in the French civil service. EURACTIV France reports.

According to a judgment by the ECJ (17 July), the French retirement system for civil servants is discriminating against men.

“French rules on certain pension-related advantages granted to civil servants give rise to indirect discrimination on grounds of sex,” the court decided.

The case goes back to 2005 when a hospital worker, Maurice Leone, filed a pension application to the CNRACL (French state insurance fund for local government workers). It was rejected on the basis that Leone had not taken enough career breaks to take on family duties.

French law states that if a civil servant has raised at least three children, he or she can benefit from early retirement. It also outlines “service credit advantages” to parents working in the civil service, which grants them an extra two trimesters of social security contributions per child.

Maternity leave

However, in order to benefit from these rules, one has to prove they interrupted their professional activities for at least two months for each child. Women automatically get this time off thanks to French maternity leave rules, which grants 16 weeks for the first two children and 26 weeks for the third.

French paternity leave is just 11 consecutive days, far below the two months required to apply for an early retirement.

According to the court’s judgement, “the criterion used in the French rules leads to a situation where many more women than men receive the benefit of the advantage concerned.”

Obligatory maternity leave means all mothers of large families are eligible to an early retirement. “Given the mandatory nature and minimum two-month duration of maternity leave under French law, female civil servants are the ones who are in a position to benefit from the service credit advantage,” said the Court, adding that “other types of leave liable to give rise to entitlement to service credits and therefore available to male civil servants are optional and, in some cases, lead to a loss of pay and accumulation of pension rights.”

Bad French habits

This is not the first time the EU has called France to order regarding inequalities in the civil service retirement system.

In 2001, the EU court warned France when a French magistrate and father of three was granted a pension without service credit advantages. The Luxembourg-based judges forced the French state to grant him the advantages, which until then had only been for women.

France hoped to reduce men’s eligibility to the bonuses by including a clause on a two month break from professional activity.

The French court, based in Lyon, must now resolve the case “in accordance with the Court’s decision, which is similarly binding on other national courts or tribunals before which a similar issue is raised.”

Clamp-down on early retirement

Applications for early retirement are gradually decreasing in the French civil service due to efforts by the French government.

According to the French national institute of economic and statistical information (INSEE), the French civil service represented over 5.5 million workers in 2012. Women represented 61.5% of the workforce.

The French court in Lyon referred a case about early retirement to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). France has already been in trouble over similar issues in the past.

The French court is obliged to resolve the case according to the CJEU’s decision.

Court of Justice of the European Union

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