“Discrimination by law”: Medvedeva’s legal appeal confirmed that women in Russia were discriminated by the government

Samara regional court has considered the appeal of Svetlana Medvedeva and has agreed with the conclusions of the court of first instance. The appellate court has confirmed that the refusal to accept Medvedeva for the position of motorist/ helmsman back in 2012 had been a case of gender discrimination. However, the court stated that it was impossible to demand that Samara River Passenger Enterprise instated Medvedeva for this position as the employer was obliged to discriminate against women by the existing Russian legal regulations, namely the government resolution No. 162 (dated February 25, 2000).

The court’s ruling on this appeal explained in detail that Svetlana Medvedeva’s legal complaint about gender-based discrimination, which had been de jure prohibited by the Russian Constitution, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and Article 3 of the Labor Code of the Russian Federation, was justified, as had been ruled back in 2016 by the UN CEDAW on the applicant’s complaint.

The regional court agreed that “the prohibition of discrimination against women in labor sphere was a universally recognized principle of international law” and noted that it follows “from the provisions of international treaties (the Convention and the optional treaty ratified by the Russian Federation), as well as the legal statements of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation and the plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, that the position of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which had been adopted following a written communication by a Russian citizen and contained recommendations for the Russian Federation with regard to the elimination of violations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, was mandatory for the Russian Federation”. The appellate ruling also listed all the UN CEDAW requirements for non-discrimination of working women and the justified opinion of the Committee, which recommended that the Russian Federation not only eliminate discrimination in the case of Svetlana Medvedeva, but also amend Article 253 of the Labor Code and review restrictions on women’s labor rights set forth by the government resolution No. 162. In fact, the court recognized that only the implementation of the decision of the Committee in its general part – that is, the abolition of Russia’s legal regulations discriminating women – could solve the problem of fulfilling the obligatory requirements in the case of Medvedeva and provide for legal protection of women from gender discrimination in the Russian Federation.

The main conclusion of the Samara regional court is as follows: “The fact that the defendant had been refused employment contract with the plaintiff on the basis of her gender due to the discrepancy between the norms of the Russian labor legislation and the norms of the international treaty has been positively established by the relevant international legal act binding on the Russian Federation”.

QED, the problem was, of course, not the plaintiff’s position in this case (Svetlana Medvedeva’s failed employer, the Samara River Passenger Enterprise). Both this particular employer and all the others were simply forced to deny employment to women and they were obliged to do so due to the non-compliance of the Russian legal regulations with the anti-discriminatory norms of the international law, which are mandatory for the Russian government.

As noted by Dmitry Bartenev, the lawyer representing the interests of Svetlana Medvedeva, the court’s decision in her case confirmed that the international norms on the prohibition of discrimination take precedence over the restrictions established by the Russian law. This means that in similar situations in future, employers are obliged to follow the position of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and, therefore, should not refuse female job seekers employment based only on the “list of professions prohibited for women”.

ADC “Memorial” is of the opinion that the most obvious and effective legal solution to eliminate discrimination against women should be the fulfillment of the UN CEDAW requirements, i.e. the abolition of discriminatory restrictions on women’s work according to their chosen profession.