C-13/05 Chacon Navas v Eurest Colectividades SA [2006]

C-13/05 Chacon Navas v Eurest Colectividades SA [2006]

C-13/05 Chacón Navas v Eurest Colectividades SA [2006] ECR I-6467 is a significant EU labour law case that played a crucial role in establishing a uniform definition of disability across European Union member states. The absence of a specific definition in the Treaty of Amsterdam and the EU Framework Directive on Employment allowed the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to articulate its own understanding of disability.

Ms Navas, an employee of a catering company, faced dismissal after being sick and awaiting an operation. The termination, initially deemed unlawful by her employers, prompted her to claim that it was void under anti-discrimination provisions, seeking reinstatement. Her claim was based on the disability provisions of Spanish law, rooted in the EU Framework Equality Directive 2000/78/EC.

The Spanish labour courts sided with Ms Navas' employers, asserting that illness did not constitute disability as per the EU directive. This interpretation allowed employers to use cost-benefit analysis to terminate employment based on illness without falling afoul of anti-discrimination provisions.

Advocate General Ad Geelhoed provided an opinion aligning with a medical model of disability. He emphasised the importance of a permanent limitation on activities and distinguished between sickness and disability. The AG's view, adopted by the ECJ, held that sickness alone did not trigger protection under the Directive.

The ECJ, starting with Article 136 TEC, linked the concept of disability to limitations arising from physical, mental, or psychological impairments hindering participation in professional life. The court stated, “...the concept of disability must be understood as referring to a limitation which results in particular from physical, mental or psychological impairments and which hinders the participation of the person concerned in professional life.”

The judgment has been criticised for potentially aligning with a medical model of disability, focusing on an individual's impairment rather than embracing the social model. Critics argue that the decision lacks reference to the social model, which was contemplated in European Commission documents underpinning the Directive.

The ECJ's decision leaves uncertainties about the inclusion of conditions such as episodic mental illness or sicknesses that take time to become permanent limitations. The consequences of the case empower employers to make cost-benefit analyses when dealing with employees incapacitated by minor or temporary illnesses, ultimately limiting the definition of disability.

Despite criticism, the case's significance lies in the ECJ's establishment of a uniform definition, leaving room for further judgments and discussions on the evolving understanding of disability in EU labour law. Additionally, the decision may have influenced countries to adopt clearer social model definitions in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as the EU representative withdrew opposition following the publication of the ECJ decision, according to Professor Lisa Waddington of Maastricht University.
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