How landmark EU rights lawsuit impacts self-employed LGBTQ+ workers

“It’s not a turning point, but a strong reminder to the Polish government that their disrespect of the human rights of LGBTQ+ people is unlawful in the EU".

Blue EU flag representing what the recent lawsuit means for self-employed LGBTQ+ workers
Image: Photo by Dušan Cvetanović

Results of a lawsuit in the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) have determined that when it comes to workplace discrimination, self-employed LGBTQ+ workers are entitled to the same rights and protections as permanent employees.

The ruling stems from the verdict in a Polish case between a gay freelance TV editor and his contractor.

After being a freelance editor for several years, the man was notified by the Polish broadcaster Telewizja Polska that his contract was ending. The news came after he posted a Christmas YouTube video promoting the acceptance of same-sex couples and identifying himself as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Two days after the video was posted, he was notified that his contract was ending.

The self-employed freelancer claims that he was unfairly dismissed by the public broadcaster company over his LGBTQ+ identity, and promptly filed for a lawsuit, seeking compensation and suing the company for discrimination on the basis of his sexual orientation.

To determine the outcome of the freelancer’s case, the Polish court decided to seek an outside opinion for clarification on whether the existing LGBTQ+ protection laws apply to self-employed workers.

The Luxembourg-based CJEU was tasked with determining whether or not Poland’s anti-discrimination act protects business-to-business contractors, or if the rule only applies to full-time workers employed by the company.

Ultimately, the court determined that the anti-discrimination act does apply to contractors, and the freelancer won the case.

Welcoming the ruling as an important clarification of the anti-discrimination protections that apply to LGBTQ+ self-employed people across the EU was Arpi Avetisyan, Head of Litigations at LGBTQ+ rights organisation ILGA-Europe. “It’s not a turning point, but a strong reminder to the Polish government that their disrespect of the human rights of LGBTI people is unlawful in the EU,” she said.

It is unclear whether the current version of the Polish Equality law needs to be changed to reflect the outcome, as CJEU rulings are binding, meaning courts in Poland must follow the judge’s interpretation of the law.

Last year, Poland hosted peaceful Pride marches, but LGBTQ+ rights in the nation are generally tense, with authorities having a hostile attitude toward queer people.

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