Female cook wins lawsuit over gender discrimination in Guangzhou

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Last Tuesday a chain of restaurants that refused to hire a female cook was found guilty of gender discrimination, fined 2000 Yuan for “spiritual damages” and required to issue a written apology.

Gao Xiao (a pseudonym) was rejected when applying for a job as a trainee cook at a seafood restaurant in Guangzhou, on account of being a woman. The young woman then sued the Guangdong Huishijia Economic Development Company, which owns the restaurant, for gender discrimination in August last year.

In June last year Gao Xiao saw the advertisement for a trainee cook on a job-hunting website and thought she would be eligible for it, being qualified as a senior cook of Chinese cuisine. After the interview she was told the position had already been filled. Later on, however, she saw the job re-advertised as being for “male applicants only.”

Gao Xiao, disappointed and angry, deemed the rejection to be completely unfair and to have caused her spiritual damage, and filed a case against the catering company appealing for compensation for the spiritual damage inflicted and an apology.

The first instance judgment in April this year required the company to pay 2,000 yuan in compensation, but rejected the request for an apology. According to the ‘Employment Promotion Law of the People’s Republic of China (2015 Amendment)’, employees are entitled to equal employment rights and freedom of job selection regardless of ethnic origin, race, gender, and religious beliefs. The court thus found the restaurant’s rejection to constitute de facto discrimination and violate the female job applicant’s right to equal employment.

The catering company denied any gender discrimination in their staff hiring practices. They also claimed that a large number of female staff are employed at their restaurants and all of them are provided with social insurance, including maternity insurance.

This week the Intermediate People’s Court of Guangzhou passed its final judgment, deciding that the company had violated Gao Xiao’s rights to equal employment; the company’s defense that the work required of a trainee cook is too physically demanding for a woman to cope with was not accepted.

Lu Miaoqing, the plaintiff’s lawyer, claimed after the judgement that winning a lawsuit for gender discrimination in employment is actually not difficult, but victims seldom choose to take action on this front.

It has been reported that up to now only five lawsuits of this kind have taken place in China. Enterprises who commit gender discrimination have therefore scarcely ever been challenged. Liu Miaoqing added that another reason for gender discrimination is the maternity leave of up to six months that female staff receive, which pushes employers to look for temporary replacements. The stereotype many hold of a woman’s role as a mother also contributes.

The lawyer concluded by saying that gender discrimination sometimes manifests itself is ways that are not immediately visible. Finding evidence for this sort of discrimination, for instance unequal pay for equal work and disproportions in the number of male and female employees is usually hard. The written apology which the final judgment demanded in Gao Xiao’s case marks an improvement in China’s judicial protection from employment discrimination, one which will encourage more victims to protect their just rights.