(CN) - When maternity leave interferes with job training, employers must offer women remedial work rather than having them wait for the next regular course, the EU's highest court ruled.
After she was named a deputy commissioner of the Italian Prison Service, or Amministrazione Penitenziaria, in 2009, Loredana Napoli was admitted to a training course on Dec. 5, 2011.
Training was scheduled to start about two weeks later, but Napoli gave birth on Dec. 7 and was placed on three-month maternity leave, as mandated by Italian law.
Less than a month after she gave birth, the Prison Service informed her that she would be excluded from the course once her first 30 days of maternity leave had passed.
The Prison Service also told Napoli that her salary would be suspended, and that she would be admitted to the next scheduled course.
Napoli took the agency to the Lazio Regional Administrative Court in Italy, which in turn asked the EU Court of Justice whether the European Parliament's 2006 directive on equal treatment of both genders bars national laws that exclude women.
The EU Court ruled for Napoli on Thursday, despite finding that her leave has not affected her status as probationary deputy commissioner, so she can enroll in the next course. Napoli has by now returned to her previously assigned job.
"The fact remains that being excluded from the vocational training course as a result of having taken maternity leave has had a negative effect on Ms Napoli's working conditions," the court's ruling states.
"The other workers admitted to the first training course had the possibility of attending that course in its entirety and, if they were successful in the examination at the end of the training, of being promoted to the higher grade of deputy commissioner and of receiving the corresponding pay before Ms Napoli. She, for her part, is required to wait for the next training course to begin, and, according to the findings of the referring court, it is, moreover, uncertain when that will be."
National authorities do have a certain degree of discretion when adopting measures to guarantee public security, but they are nevertheless required "to observe the principle of proportionality, which is one of the general principles of European Union law," the court found.
Remedial courses are one option that would interfere less with the principle of equal treatment, according to the ruling.
This would allow the female worker to "be admitted within the prescribed period to the examination enabling her to be promoted, without delay, to a higher grade and also meaning that the development of her career is not less favourable than that of the career of a male colleague who has been successful in the same competition and admitted to the same initial training course," the ruling states.