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The inflexible mother

August 2011 - Employment. Legal Developments by Norrbom Vinding Law Firm, member of ius laboris.

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It was not discriminatory for an employer to give as one of the reasons for dismissing a single mother that she was not as flexible as the other employees.
The Danish Act on Equal Treatment of Men and Women prohibits employers from dismissing employees because of their gender. But is it gender discrimination if an employer dismisses an employee and one of the reasons is that as a single mother she is not as flexible as the other employees? That was the question before the High Court in this case.
A female call centre employee was dismissed because of a decline in orders and shrinking revenues. She was surprised that she was fired and asked why she had been singled out. That led to a number of emails between the employee and her employer.
The employer wrote several times to the employee that they needed flexible employees. In the last email the employer wrote that they believed it would be more difficult for her to change her hours in the weeks when she had her children. Based on this correspondence, the employee sued the employer.
On appeal, the High Court reversed the lower court’s judgment and ruled in favour of the employer. The employer’s reference to the employee’s children in one email was not enough to satisfy the Court that she had been discriminated against within the meaning of the Danish Act on Equal Treatment of Men and Women. The Court had regard to the explanation given in the notice of termination, the employer’s first three emails, the employer’s statement in court and the information about the slump in business.
Norrbom Vinding notes:
  • that the case suggests that it would not be discriminatory for an employer suffering a slump in business to include single parents’ reduced flexibility as one of several factors when selecting which employees to let go, which must be said to be the legally correct decision; but

  • that, on the other hand, this is the first case in Denmark on this issue so it will hardly be the final word in the matter.
The above does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such

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