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Romania reprimanded for preventing petite woman from becoming military doctor

Elena Moraru took her fight to attend military medical school all the way to the European Court of Human Rights after she was rejected for being too small.

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Romania discriminated against a potential military recruit by refusing to allow her to sit for an entrance exam because she was too small, Europe’s top rights court held Tuesday. 

The European Court of Human Rights sided with Elena Moraru, ruling that Bucharest had no scientific or research-based rationale for barring the now-23-year-old from taking an entrance examination for military medical school. 

In 2018, Moraru began the process to apply to the two universities in Romania that offered a military medicine study program with the intention to become a military doctor. As part of the application process, she underwent a physical examination at Piteşti Emergency Military Hospital in Pitești, a city in southern Romania. 

She was told that her height and weight - Moraru is 4 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 97 pounds - did not meet a threshold set by the Ministry of National Defense. Romanian authorities argued that military medical staff must be able to carry the standard pack for a soldier, which weighs around 125 pounds. In a review a month later, the military upheld the decision to reject her. 

Moraru appealed to a Romanian court, arguing the height and weight requirement is discriminatory. She pointed to a 2017 ruling from the European Union's highest court which found that a height minimum set by the Greek police force was illegal because it discriminated against women and was not vital to the job. 

Romania argued its height and weight standards are set differently for men and for women, taking into account the generally smaller size of women. 

The Strasbourg-based court sided with Moraru, finding that the requirement lacks sufficient explanation.

“The domestic authorities have failed to put forward any reasonable and objective justification for the disadvantage faced by the applicant in the admission process to study military medicine," the seven-judge panel wrote. 

The court was especially critical of the act that Moraru was never asked to demonstrate if she could carry the required weight. The defense ministry's standard does not appear to be based on “any studies, research or statistical data, or any type of empirical evidence," the court said. 

As of 2020, the Romanian authorities removed the size requirement for military recruits. Although the European Court of Human Rights acknowledged that Moraru would be free to reapply, the court noted she was still placed at a disadvantage by the delay. 

The court ordered the Romanian government to pay Moraru 7,500 euros ($7,560) in damages. 

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