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Agency fights discrimination

ANYONE who believes they have been the victim of discrimination can seek help from equal opportunities body the Halde.

ANYONE who believes they have been the victim of discrimination in France can seek help from equal opportunities body the Halde. This includes discrimination on the grounds of nationality.

The Haute Autorité de Lutte Contre les Discriminations et pour l'Egalité (High Authority for the Fight Against Discriminations and for Equality) is able to deal with many issues important to readers, a spokeswoman said.

For example the Halde supported foreign early-retirees denied French healthcare under the CMU and would be willing to rule on allegations that British civil partners are treated unfairly in France, an issue highlighted in September’s Connexion.

The Halde is an independent French body intended to be both simple and free to apply to. Its founding, in 2004, followed an EU directive - although Halde officials admit the UK was much quicker off the mark.

One said: “The UK has had anti-discrimination commissions for more than 30 years for race, sex and disability, which merged last year into a new body which now also deals with age, religion and sexual orientation. Although it has a narrower remit than us, the British tackled this far before France.”

The Halde's remit is to police any discrimination contrary to French law or an international agreement.

It defines discrimination as unequal treatment based on criteria prohibited by law in domains like employment, housing, education, public services and access to goods and services.

The kinds of discrimination it rules on are age, sex, origins, family situation, sexual orientation, lifestyle, genetic characteristics, real or supposed membership of ethnic groups, nations or races, physical appearance, disability, state of health, pregnancy, surname, political opinions, religious beliefs and union activities.

Discrimination can be direct, such as a job advert which says women cannot apply, or indirect, such as stating candidates must be above a certain height (which may exclude many women) unless it can be proven that a particular height is essential to do the job.

However the Halde stresses it cannot get involved, for example, in every case of perceived unfairness or favoritism at work (taking action under dismissal, disciplinary or administrative law might be more suitable) or in cases of violent attacks, including verbal abuse, which are police matters.

Action by the Halde can be wide ranging - from encouraging employers to make changes amicably, to arranging mediation, to initiating court action.

It is empowered to propose out of court settlements. The body also runs publicity campaigns, including a blog which the spokeswoman said was popular with young visitors.

Alternatives

On average it takes 90 days from a complaint being submitted - by letter or email - to a decision on the Halde's position being made. They respond to all queries and will suggest alternative avenues where they decide the case falls outside their remit.

A spokeswoman said they would prefer letters or emails in French, but ones in English would be dealt with too. She said: “We supported the case of foreigners who wanted to belong to the CMU because it is not right for healthcare access to be denied on nationality grounds.

To give another example, a person came to us because she wasn't allowed to exercise her profession as a nurse in France - she was a Congolese woman with a Belgian diploma, we said that was discriminatory.

“We also supported a German woman refused accommodation by an estate agency on nationality grounds.”

The spokeswoman added they would also help people concerned about discrimination against British civil partners. (See stories in October and November Connexion.

“We have not ruled on this so far but we have helped people who felt their French pacses were not recognised fairly compared to marriages.”

The Halde had 6,200 applications last year and 4,000 the year before. The most common criterion is origins (30%), followed by state of health and disability, while the most common area is working life (50%). For more details see www.halde.fr or call 08 10 00 50 00 (local call cost).

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