In a recent ruling, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) found that a minimum height requirement for applicants to the Greek police force fell short of what EU law required. This is case is a useful reminder that using a one-size-fits-all approach is not rarely an appropriate way of dealing with issues.
In Greece, a national law set a minimum high requirement of 1.7m for candidates who wished to train as police officers. An applicant, measuring in at 1.68m, brought a complaint to the Greek Court of Appeal complaining that it broke the Greek constitutional principal of equality of the sexes. The question was referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The ECJ noted that far more women are shorter than 1.7m than men. As such the requirement clearly put women at a disadvantage and was indirectly discriminatory against women. The question for the ECJ was whether this indirect discrimination was a justified.
The Greek Government argued that police officers are regularly required to undertake physical work such as arresting suspects. This work requires a certain level of physical force, and the minimum height requirement was in place to ensure candidates could reach that level. While the ECJ agreed that there was a legitimate need to ensure that officers could carry out physical tasks, the means of achieving that goal was not proportionate. Not only are there a whole range of duties that officers can carry out that are not physical by nature, the ECJ also found that being a certain height has little bearing on whether an officer can carry out the more physical duties.
Crucially, rather than imposing an arbitrary standard, candidates could undertake physical testing to assess their aptitude on a case by case basis. This would have served the same purpose, without being discriminatory. The Greek Government’s position was further undermined by the fact that the minimum height requirement for women in the armed forces, port police and coast guard was only 1.6m. As such, the minimum height requirement was found to be unlawful.
The ruling underlines the ECJ’s approach to indirect discrimination, particularly its approach to proportionality and necessity. While there may be some occasions where indirect discrimination is unavoidable, drawing a line in the sand (like the minimum height requirement) is difficult to objectively justify where candidates could be assessed on an individual basis.
For information on the ruling, please visit the ECJ full policy.