Combating workplace discrimination of LGBT persons through legal action is difficult, slow and often ineffective, and victims are exposed to long-term mobbing, so they often give up on the struggle for their rights, warns Zagreb Pride. The majority of complaints of mobbing are in the public sector, especially the public health sector. Workers are less inclined to file complaints agains private employers. The Ombudswowman for Gender Equlity is convinced sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace is widespread albeit largely invisible.

Author: Darko Markušić

LGBT rights in Croatia are being discussed in an increasingly posivite light. Still, there are individuals who, fearing judgement from their environment or family members, are reluctant to speak up. In recent years the number of people who tried to protect their human rights – the right to sexuality, but also the right to work, which is at stake in this case – by legal means (i.e. by notifying the competent institutions) has increased.

The annual report of the Ombudswoman for Gender Equlity for 2015 states, among other things, that according to the number of received complaints, discrimination is most prevalent in the area of work, employment and social security (52 per cent), and that complaints are mostly filed by women (68 per cent).

Furthermore, the report states that 4.5 per cent of complaints from a total of 2467 cases refer to sexual orientation and 1.2 per cent to gender identity.

Also, there has been no progress in terms of protection of physical integrity of LGBT citizens and suppression of hate-motivated criminal offenses against this group. According to the Ministry of Justice’s records, in 2015 not a single criminal proceedings was initiated related to criminal offenses motivated by hatred toward persons of the same-sex sexual orientation, even though according to the Ministry of the Interior’s official records the police had processed five criminal offenses motivated by hatred on the basis of the victim’s sexual orientation.

According to the Ministry of Justice’s records 7 misdemeanour proceedings have been initiated related to sexual orientation based discrimination, while 5 additional proceedings have been transferred from 2014. The majority of those proceedings (7 of them) were based on sexual harassment – 6 cases related to sexual orientation based harassment and 1 case related to sexual harassment. The records show a disparity between misdemeanour and criminal proceedings, as the Ombudswoman had pointed out in previous years, states the report.

The Ombudswoman believes that sexual orientation discrimination in the labour market and the goods and services sector is widespread even though it is not particularly visible. In 2015, states the report, she received three complaints of sexual orientation discrimination in the field of work and employment (and only one in 2014). According to the Ministry of Justice’s records, four litigation proceedings were brought to the civil court for unfavourable treatment on the basis of sexual orientation, all of which had been initiated in 2014, while in 2015 there were no new proceedings. Of the four proceedings, two were resolved by a final verdict in favour of the victims, two of whom were women, and one man, states the Ombudswoman’s report, emphasizing that the Ombudswoman took steps to encourage judicial bodies to sanction homophobic hate speech and incitement to violence. The statistical data, she adds, points to a disparity between misdemeanour and criminal proceedings.

Silence about human rights violations of LGBT persons also came from, for example, the Independent Union of Research and Higher Education Employees of Croatia even though, according to unofficial data, the majority of human rights violations of LGBT persons take places in the public sector.

Marko Jurčić from Zagreb Pride confirms this.

“Most of the people who contact us work in the public sector. It seems to me they are more emboldened to report discrimination compared to workers in the private sector. We have been contacted by only one private sector worker. The majority of complaints are from the public health sector,” he explains.

Likewise, we had not received a response concerning complaints and human rights violations of LGBT persons from the Croatian Helskini Committee (HHO), which is not surprising considering that its leaders Ivan Zvonimir Čičak and Igor Peternel have been more focused lately on the prevention of fan violence and protecting the reputation of Zdravko Mamić, the notorious former executive director and nowdays just an advisor to the football club Dinamo, at the same time unfortunately neglecting HHO’s official area of action – the protection of human rights of Croatian citizens.

Danijela Almesberger from the Lesbian Organization Rijeka (LORI) says they have been collaborating with Zagreb Pride for several years in the field of human rights violations of LGBT persons and they have a joint legal team that assists people whose rights have been violated.

Marko Jurčić, the Zagreb Pride spokesperson, reveals that they had initiated three proceedings related to LGBT persons’ rights violations. Which does not mean there were not more such cases. “According to our 2013 research, 109 of 700 respondents said they experienced discrimination in the workplace or during job search. So it is evident that the number of reported cases of discrimination (to NGOs or directly to court) is far smaller than the number of persons who actually experienced discrimination,” explains Jurčić.

Of the three reported cases, one is still being processed, while the other two have ended because the victims dropped the lawsuit. Therefore, we still do not have a final verdict for workplace discrimination of LGBT persons. This refers to the cases that we know about. In Croatia, to our knowledge, there has been only one verdict for workplace discrimination – that was the case of professor Dario Krešić vs. Faculty of Organization and Informatics in 2013, which entailed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Jurčić adds that 2016 hasn’t been much different from previous years in that regard.

Combating discrimination through legal action is difficult, slow and often ineffective. In addition to that, there are paradoxical situations in case law – victims of discrimination are in various ways being discouraged and incited to abandon the struggle for their rights. For example, it often happens that victims do not get support from their colleagues who might testify in their favour, there is social pressure in the form of the idea that nothing can be achieved through litigation since it’s an expensive and protracted process, and it also sometimes happens that the defendant sues the victim, claiming that the lawsuit violated their honor and dignity.

“The process itself is expensive, you have to pay the court fees, experts and representation. If the victim contacts Zagreb Pride, at least we can cover the cost of representation”, stresses Jurčić.

He confirms that the majority of cases are related to workplace discrimination, i.e. getting fired after long-term mobbing.

One of the cases was related to the termination of a contract of indefinite duration, which was preceded by mobbing lasting several months. The other two cases were about workers with fixed-term contracts which were not extended, unlike other employees in a comparable position – except they were not LGBT persons. In both of these cases there was also long-term mobbing of the workers, after the superiors and colleagues found out the individuals in question were LGBT, adds Jurčić.

Photo: Jenn and Tony Bot, CC licence