ECHR Holds French Criminal Defamation Conviction of Workplace Harassment Plaintiff Violates Freedom of Expression

By: Molly Osinoff

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On January 18, 2024 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that a plaintiff’s criminal conviction of defamation following her pursuit of a workplace harassment lawsuit constituted an Article 10 violation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. 

France’s Prime Minister for Labour, Full Employment and Inclusion, on the left, and ILO Director-General on the right | Photo Courtesy of the International Labour Organization.

Earlier this month, the ECHR issued a ruling in the case of Allée v. France. The plaintiff was a French national living in France who was employed at an education association. In 2015, the plaintiff requested a transfer to another position due to harassment by the association’s executive vice-chair. A year later, the plaintiff’s husband wrote to the managing director, accusing the executive vice-chair of harassing and sexually assaulting his wife. The managing director advised the applicant to take sick leave until her contract could be terminated or she could find a new position.

The plaintiff sent an email titled “Sexual Assault, Sexual and Mental Harassment” to the association’s managing director. She then forwarded it to her husband, the State Labor inspector, the executive vice-chair, and her son, who was the association’s spiritual director. The plaintiff’s husband subsequently posted a message to Facebook to amplify his wife’s allegations, calling the situation a “sex scandal.” The message included the name of the executive vice-chair’s family and the name of the association. Later, the executive vice-chair brought claims against the plaintiff and her husband alleging public defamation.

The Paris Criminal Court found the plaintiff and her husband guilty of public defamation of a private individual, and the Paris Court of Appeals upheld the judgment. In the case brought to the ECHR, the plaintiff argued that her criminal conviction of defamation violated the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) Article 10, which provides the right to freedom of expression.

The ECHR held in the plaintiff’s favor, explaining that the plaintiff’s defamation conviction could have a chilling effect, ultimately discouraging people, and women specifically, from reporting experiences of workplace sexual harassment or assault. It concluded that the restriction on the plaintiff’s right to freedom of expression was disproportionate to the legitimate aim pursued, and that the plaintiff had suffered a violation of Article 10.

This case is not the only headway made in workplace combating harassment in France. On April 13, 2023, France officially ratified the International Labour Organization Violence and Harassment Convention’s 2019 standards (C190) for preventing and responding to workplace violence and harassment. France was the 27th country in the world, and the 5th in the European Union, to ratify C190. The Minister of Labor at the time said that “the world of work must not be a source of anxiety or insecurity for women.” The Convention affirms the right to a workplace free from violence and harassment and provides the first globally agreed upon definition of violence and harassment at work, including gender-based violence. While France was a driving force behind the Convention, it did not ratify C190 until four years after the convention.

For further information, please see:

ECHR – The Applicant’s Criminal Conviction for Public Defamation Following Claims of Mental and Sexual Harassment Breached Article 10 of the Convention – 18 Jan. 2024.

Human Rights Watch – France Ratifies Treaty to End Violence and Harassment at Work – 20 Apr. 2023.

International Labour Organization – France Ratifies Convention C190 on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work – 13 Apr. 2023.



Author: Sydney Krause