The long-running saga of the doctor dismissed by a Roman Catholic hospital in Germany for failing to obey the Church’s canon law on marriage has been concluded in the doctor’s favour.
JR, a Roman Catholic, was Head of the Internal Medicine Department of St Vinzenz Hospital, in Düsseldorf, which was managed by IR: a limited liability company under the supervision of the Archbishop of Cologne. JR divorced his first wife and remarried in a civil ceremony in 2008 without first seeking an annulment under canon law and was sacked in 2009 on the grounds that he had infringed the duty of loyalty under his employment contract.
The Labour Court ruled in his favour in 2011 and ordered that he be reinstated; however, that ruling was overturned in 2014 by the Constitutional Court, which held that Roman Catholic employers should be allowed to impose stricter standards on members of the faith. He challenged his dismissal on the grounds that a non-Roman Catholic employee would not have been treated in the same way and the Federal Labour Court [Bundesarbeitsgericht] asked the CJEU for an advisory opinion as to the application of Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 – the Equal Treatment Directive.
In JQ v IR  EUECJ C-68/17, the Grand Chamber replied that a decision of a Church or other organisation with an ethos based on religion or belief which manages a hospital to require its employees performing managerial duties to act in good faith and to behave in ways that differed according to the individual religious beliefs of those employees was, in principle, reviewable by the national courts. The national court had to satisfy itself that the religion or belief requirement was genuine, legitimate and justified in the light of the ethos in question and, where it was not possible for a domestic court to interpret the applicable national law in a manner consistent with Article 4(2) of Directive 2000/78, within the limits of its jurisdiction it had to apply the general principles of EU law, including the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief under Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. We noted that judgment here: in effect, the Grand Chamber reaffirmed what it had already ruled in Egenberger: that employers must take care that any occupational requirement that they impose on a post is, in fact, a genuine one.
On 20 February 2019, the Federal Labour Court ruled that the hospital had acted unlawfully when it sacked the doctor. Both under a consistent interpretation of domestic law and in light of the primacy of EU law, the imposed duty of loyalty to the Roman Catholic canon law on marriage was not a genuine, legitimate and justified occupational requirement, given the nature of the activities of the applicant and the circumstances in which he exercised them.
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