Height requirement discriminates against women

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has found that the imposition of a minimum height requirement for both men and women who want to enrol to police school amounts to unlawful discrimination.

What is this case all about?

In Greece, those who wish to be admitted to police school to train as a police officer must meet the minimum height requirement of 1.70m without shoes.

In this case, the applicant was rejected because she was only 1.68m tall. She submitted a complaint to the Greek Court of Appeal, arguing that this requirement contravened the constitutional principle of equality of sexes. The case was referred to the ECJ who were set the task of considering whether this requirement contravened the EU Equal Treatment Directive.

What did the ECJ conclude?

The ECJ concluded it constituted indirect discrimination because the minimum height requirement meant that many more women are put at a disadvantage than men.

The Greek government maintained that the aim of the requirement is to enable ‘the effective accomplishment of the task of the Greek police and that possession of certain particular physical attributes, such as being of a minimum height, is a necessary and appropriate condition for achieving that aim.’ However, the ECJ noted that there are police functions, for example, arresting offenders and protecting persons, which do necessitate ‘the use of physical force requiring a particular physical aptitude’. However there are other police functions, such as traffic control, that do not.

They continued that ‘it would not appear that such an aptitude is necessarily connected with being of a certain minimum height and that shorter persons naturally lack that aptitude’. The ECJ notes that up until 2003, there were different minimum height requirements for men and women (1.65m for women and 1.70m for men) and that for Greek armed forces, coast guards and port police, the minimum height for women is only 1.60cm.

It was found by the ECJ that the aim could have been achieved by less restrictive methods, for example, carrying out tests to assess physical ability. Therefore in the ECJ’s view that this requirement was neither appropriate nor necessary to achieve the legitimate objective that it pursues.

But this is about Greece? How does it affect the UK?

Remember that the ECJ interprets EU law and issues judgments that are binding on all EU member states, including the UK.

Catherine Wilson, Director of Legal Services at Ellis Whittam, commented ‘Perhaps this case signals the addition of sizeism and in particular heightism to the seemingly ever increasing list of protected characteristics. Certainly employers need to be wary of trying to impose unnecessary or unjustifiable conditions or requirements as part of their recruitment process’.

Need some guidance?

If you would like to know more about discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, read our guidance:

If you have any specific queries, contact your Employment Law Adviser who can answer your concerns and help you find workable and commercial-savvy solutions to your workplace challenges.

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