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Utrecht District Court refuses employer’s request to terminate labourt agreement protecting employee from discrimination

Utrecht District Court, March 29, 2024 – In a significant ruling, the judge has rejected an employer’s request to terminate an employment contract due to a discrimination complaint. This judgment protects the employee from adverse actions after filing a complaint about gender discrimination, in this case, due to pregnancy.

Case Overview

The case involved an employer’s request to terminate an employment contract with an employee on the grounds of a disturbed working relationship. The employee had filed a complaint about discrimination, claiming that she had returned to her position under less favorable conditions and circumstances after her maternity leave.

Key Facts

  1. Employment and Complaint: The employee had been working for the employer since May 2020 and experienced a return to a changed and less favorable position after her maternity leave. This led to a complaint of gender discrimination.
  2. Reorganization and Job Change: During her leave, the employer carried out a reorganization, transferring the most lucrative clients to a newly formed Platinum Team. The employee returned to the Gold Team, which she had been a part of before her leave, now with less valuable clients, resulting in a significant loss of income potential for her.
  3. Mediation and Reassignment: Attempts at mediation and reassignment within the organization were unsuccessful, escalating the tensions between the employee and the employer further.

Judge’s Decision

The judge rejected the employer’s termination request based on the following considerations:

  1. Connection to the Discrimination Complaint: The judge determined that the disturbed working relationship was inextricably linked to the discrimination complaint filed by the employee. This connection made granting the termination request equivalent to a prohibited retaliatory dismissal, violating Article 7:646 paragraph 14 of the Dutch Civil Code.
  2. Employer Could Not Refute Discrimination: The Human Rights College had ruled that the employer did not make a prohibited distinction in the job change post-leave but did in handling the complaint. Contrary to the College’s opinion, the judge found there was indeed a retaliatory dismissal.
  3. Rejection: The judge ruled that the employment contract remains in force and that both parties must take steps to find a mutually satisfactory resolution.
  4. Discrimination: The judge could not escape the impression that the employee’s absence during the reorganization period (whether consciously or unconsciously) played a significant role in the employer’s decision to reassign her to the Gold Team upon her return. A woman on maternity leave has the right, under Article 7:646 paragraph 1 of the Dutch Civil Code, in conjunction with Article 15 of Directive 2006/54/EC, to return to her position or an equivalent one under no less favorable conditions and circumstances after her leave. The judge was “surprised” that the employee was not given the opportunity to prove herself in the Platinum Team upon her return and saw no reason why this could not still happen.

Consequences of the Ruling

The employment contract between the employer and the employee remains in effect. Both parties must now work together to restore the employment relationship. The employer is ordered to pay €6,000 in extrajudicial costs and €1,077 in legal costs.

Final Remarks

This ruling highlights the importance of careful handling of discrimination complaints by employers and protecting employees from adverse actions after filing such a complaint. For legal assistance and advice in similar situations, please contact our law firm. We are ready to support you in your employment law matters.

Read the full ruling here.


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