Irrespective of sex and footwear, Greek law mandates that all police candidates must stand at least 1.7 meters tall — about a tenth of an inch below 5 foot 7.
Marie-Eleni Kalliri missed that cutoff by a hairsplitting eight-tenths of an inch. She brought a discrimination complaint in Athens when the police force in Vrachati, a beach town on the island of Corinthia, refused her on that basis.
After an appeals court found that Greece’s law conflicted with the constitutional principle of equality of the sexes, the ministers of the interior and education and religious affairs took the case to the Council of State.
Those proceedings were stayed, however, to invite the European Court of Justice’s insight on EU directives concerning equal treatment in employment.
In answering Wednesday that Greece’s law may be discriminatory, the Luxembourg-based court questioned how critical height requirements are to police work.
“While it is true that the exercise of police functions involving the protection of persons and goods, the arrest and custody of offenders and the conduct of crime prevention patrols may require the use of physical force requiring a particular physical aptitude, the fact remains that certain police functions, such as providing assistance to citizens or traffic control, do not clearly require the use of significant physical force,” the opinion states.
“Furthermore, even if all the functions carried out by the Greek police required a particular physical aptitude, it would not appear that such an aptitude is necessarily connected with being of a certain minimum height and that shorter persons naturally lack that aptitude.”
Indeed Greek law up until 2003 set different height requirements for men and women applying to police school. While men still had to be at least 1.7 meters tall, women could be 1.65 meters, about 2 inches shorter.
Before referring Kalliri’s case to the EU body, the Council of State noted women are far more likely than men to be shorter than 1.7 meters. The EU court said this very clearly puts women “at a disadvantage compared with men as regards admission to the competition for entry to the Greek Officers’ School and School for Policemen.”
“It follows that the law at issue in the main proceedings constitutes indirect discrimination,” the court added.
Wednesday’s ruling stresses that Greece could achieve the same aim of ensuring a properly functioning police force “by measures that are less disadvantageous to women.”
One idea offered by the court is preselecting candidates to competition for entry into police academy based on specific, physical-ability tests.
“It follows that, subject to the assessments that it is for the national court to carry out, the law in question is not justified,” the ruling states.