Racist jokes and early termination of fixed-term contract for serious misconduct

Montpellier Court of Appeal, May 2, 2024 RG n°21/01805

A technician was given a precautionary suspension, and his fixed-term contract was subsequently terminated early for serious misconduct, because of racist remarks he had made to work colleagues. In particular, he was accused of having said “I don’t shake hands with black people”.

The employee challenged the termination of his employment contract before the Labour Court (Conseil de Prud’hommes) and won the case.

On appeal, the employee argued that these remarks had been made “in jest”. In vain.

The Court of Appeal considered that :

– The comments made, which were not contested, constituted a breach of obligations that made it impossible for the employee to remain with the company, thus ruling out the excuse of joking,

– The fact that the employee brought into the proceedings statements from his friends of foreign origin, in which they assured him that they had not heard him make discriminatory or racist remarks about them, did not call into question the behaviour complained of.

This decision is in line with the current trend in legislation and case law to take a firm stance against abusive, aggressive and discriminatory comments, whether sexist or racist, made in a professional context.  It was in the same vein that the LYON Court of Appeal, in a ruling dated 13 July, awarded the employee who had reported the repeated racist remarks made by his colleagues compensation of €10,000 for the damage caused by the employer’s inaction (CA, Lyon, 13 June 2024 no. 21/07945). In this ruling, the Court recalls that racist and contemptuous comments necessarily cause moral suffering for those who are subjected to them and make working conditions more difficult when they occur in a professional context.

Further information : on 17 June 2024, as part of the 2023-2026 Plan to combat racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination on grounds of origin, the Ministry of Labour, Health and Solidarity published the “Guide to raising awareness among members of works’ social and economic committees about preventing and combating racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination on grounds of origin”.  The purpose of this guide for employee representatives is to inform them of their powers in the fight against all forms of discrimination and the tools available to them to combat and prevent them.