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What does direct discrimination based on sex mean?

Direct discrimination based on sex occurs where one person is treated less favourably due to their sex compared to how another person is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation (clause 3 (1) 3) of the Gender Equality Act). The person whose treatment is being compared to the current situation may be in a similar situation now, may have been in a similar situation in the past, or may not actually exist. In the latter case, the current situation is compared with a hypothetical situation where another person (usually of the opposite sex, but not necessarily) would be in a similar situation.

For example, direct discrimination based on sex occurs when an applicant is not hired for a job solely or primarily because she is a woman (e.g. the employer believes that the job is not suitable for women or that the woman will soon get pregnant) or he is a man (e.g. the employer believes that men don’t have the emotional characteristics required when caring for children or the elderly, or that a man would not stay long in a low-paid job). In the case of direct discrimination, it is irrelevant whether the unlawful difference in treatment was the result of malice or ignorance.

According to Estonian law, direct discrimination based on sex also means less favourable treatment of a person in connection with pregnancy and child-birth, parenting, performance of family obligations or other circumstances related to gender. In these situations, it’s not necessary that the actually existing or theoretical reference persons are of different genders. This means, for example, that an employer who treats a pregnant woman less favourably than a woman who is not pregnant or a man who is a parent less favourably than a man who has no duties of care related to children is also considered direct discrimination.

Direct discrimination based on sex also includes gender-based and sexual harassment and situations where people are treated less favourably because they fend off harassment or are subject to harassment. Gender-based harassment also includes, for example, being insulted for being a parent.

If you feel that you’ve been treated unequally, please contact the Equality Commissioner by e-mail at avaldus@volinik.ee or telephone +372 626 9059. The anonymity of the person is guaranteed when contacting the Commissioner.