(CN) - Spanish national Lourdes Cachaldora Fernandez has worked full time for much of her adult life, paying into Spain's social security system between 1971 and 2010. For a seven-year block of that time, however, Fernandez worked part time and then not at all.
When Fernandez became totally disabled and unable to work in 2010, she applied for a disability pension. Authorities fixed her pension at 55 percent of her basic monthly reference salary, or just under $440.
On appeal, Fernandez claimed that the scheme unfairly penalized her for the years she spent working part time and unemployed. She argued that her pension should have been $968 and went to a regional high court when authorities disagreed.
That court asked the European Court of Justice whether Spain's disability pension scheme violates EU law, which forbids both gender-based discrimination and disparities between full- and part-time workers in social security matters. The Spanish court acknowledged that the calculation plan discriminates against people who work part time and then drop out of the workforce for a period of time - typically women - but questioned whether the scheme could be justified in some way.
In an advisory opinion for the EU high court Thursday, Advocate General Yves Bot said Spain's methods create indirect, gender-based social security discrimination by penalizing part-time workers - over 70 percent of whom are women in Spain.
Here, the method used to calculate Fernandez's pension disproportionately reduced her monthly payments, since her periods of part-time work and unemployment accounted for less than seven of the 39 years she spent in the workforce, Bot said.
"It is not possible to justify the use of the method in question," according to a summary of Bot's opinion by the court.
The adviser's full opinion does not appear on the court's website.
Bot's opinion is not binding on the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice, which has begun its own deliberations in the case.
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