In France, employees who suffer from workplace discrimination are entitled to bring claims against their employer. Workplace discrimination is strictly prohibited and is characterized when a person is treated less favorably than another because of his or her origin, sex, marital status, pregnancy, physical appearance, health, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political opinions, trade union activities, his/her belonging to an ethnic group, or his/her alleged race or religion.

Employees or future employees who have been subjected to discrimination can either take legal action directly or authorize a union to act on their behalf. However, even if a union takes legal action, the employer will automatically and immediately learn the name of the employee concerned. Moreover, such procedure does not permit a demonstration that the discrimination is collective.

In this context, as from 20 November 2016[1], French law has been modified to allow representative trade unions and associations to launch class action suits in order to show that several candidates or employees have been directly or indirectly discriminated against by the same employer. The identities of the discriminated persons remains unknown at the beginning of the procedure.

The purpose of the class action can be either to put an end to the discrimination or to obtain damages (or both).

Before commencing the class action, the trade union or the association must contact the employer and request it to cease the discriminatory situation.

As from such date, the employer :

  • has one month to inform the works council (or, if any, the staff delegates or representative unions within the company) of the request made by the union or association. A dialogue between the employer and the staff representative should lead to a solution in order to stop the discrimination.
  • has six months to stop the discrimination. If no action has been taken at the end of such six-month period, the trade union or association which initiated the class action may commence proceedings before the tribunal.

During the course of the procedure undertaken by the unions or association, the time limit for introducing an individual action is suspended. Therefore, an employee or candidate can decide to take legal action after obtaining the judgement related to the class action in order to obtain compensation for the damages which were not included within the scope of the judgment.

[1] Article L 1134-6 to L 1134-10 of the French Labour Code

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