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Court decided case of dismissed pregnant religion teacher

Regional Court in Kraków ruled that pregnant teachers of religious education may not be deprived of protection under Polish law. According to the Court, the provisions of the Labour Code that protect pregnant women against termination of employment should be applied not only to female school teachers but also religion teachers employed in accordance with the Teacher’s Charter.

Sylwia Z., a client of the HFHR, worked as an appointed teacher and signed an employment agreement. Formally, she was laid off on the grounds of the diocese bishop’s revocation of her individual delegation to provide religious education. The administrators of her school claimed that this effectively terminated the teacher’s employment considering the provisions of the Teacher’s Charter. Dismissed teacher of religion demanded reinstatement to work and also sought compensation for the alleged violation of the principle of equal treatment in employment.

As the first instance court decided that appointed teachers of religious education did not have any remedies against termination of employment during pregnancy because they are not regulated by the provisions of the Labour Code that prohibit termination of employment contracts during pregnancy.

The ruling was appealed to the Regional Court in Kraków, which expressed the opposite opinion. The appellate court determined that Article 177 (1) of the Labour Code, which prohibits termination of employment contracts during pregnancy and maternity leave, is applicable also to female teachers of religion. Because of this, the provisions that grant special protection to pregnant women should be applied in the case of Ms Z.

The Court held that, as a rule, the provisions of employment law concerning the protection of pregnant women apply also to teachers of religious education. On the other hand, the Court noted that Sylwia Z. had failed to dispense with formalities before the beginning of the school year: she did not extend the validity of her delegation to provide religious education services at her school. In the Court’s assessment, this was a culpable cause and reasonable stand-alone grounds for termination of employment irrespectively of later revocation of a bishop’s delegation. In such a situation, even an employee afforded special protection may be terminated from work based on a culpable conduct.

“Although the Regional Court ultimately ruled against Sylwia Z., the reasons for the ruling express important conclusions, which provide a crucial source of persuasive authority for courts deciding similar cases in future”, says Dr Dorota Pudzianowska, HFHR lawyer who conducted the case.

“As far as points of law are concerned, we succeeded in arguing the client’s case, which failed only due to specific factual considerations that led to the court dismissing the action brought by Ms Z. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the second instance ruling may be a tool used for arguing similar cases in future”, says Marzanna Sobaniec, an attorney retained by the HFHR to litigate the case in court.

The case was conducted as part of the HFHR’s anti-discrimination programme “Article 32”. Sylwia Z. was represented by Ms Marzanna Sobaniec and Mr Piotr Bobrowski who acted pro bono as a courtesy to the HFHR.

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