JHA | EU Court: Church Jobs Subject to Proportionality Review

EU Court: Church Jobs Subject to Proportionality Review

June 7, 2018

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The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has warned that the German Evangelical Church might be breaching anti-discrimination laws by requiring its employees to belong to a Christian denomination (C-414/16 Egenberger).

While we might expect the local vicar to be a Christian in name at least, it is not clear why an applicant for a post to research the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination needs to be. Ms Egenberger, of no particular denomination, did not even make it to interview, as the job specification required that candidates should belong to a Protestant or other Christian church. Ms Egenberger consequently sued for discrimination, and the German Federal Labour Court referred the case to the CJEU, asking for an interpretation of the Anti-Discrimination Directive (Council Directive 2000/78/EC).

According to the CJEU, it is for the national court to decide on a case-by-case basis whether religion is a ‘genuine, legitimate and justified occupational requirement’. Such judicial review would assess the balance struck between churches’ autonomy and workers’ anti-discrimination rights. Specifically, national courts must ascertain whether the said requirement is necessary and objectively dictated, having regard to the ethos of the organisation concerned, by the nature of the occupational activity in question or the circumstances in which it is carried out. In addition, the requirement must comply with the principle of proportionality, and thus it must be appropriate and not go beyond what is necessary for attaining the objective pursued.

Interestingly, the CJEU was not tempted to grant the Church a total exemption from anti-discrimination laws as regards employment (as is the case in the US, for example). Instead, the CJEU asserted that the EU law principle of proportionality governs how churches (and other religious institutions) may discriminate against employees on the basis of religion, and the proportionality or otherwise of such discrimination is for national courts to police.