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Japanese AGC unit loses lawsuit over indirect gender discrimination

A subsidiary of Japanese glass manufacturer AGC has lost a lawsuit brought by a female administrative employee seeking damages for indirect gender discrimination.

The Tokyo District Court on Monday ordered AGC Green-Tech to pay ¥3.7 million to the 44-year-old plaintiff, who alleged that the company practiced gender discrimination by limiting the use of its corporate housing program to its career employees, who are all men.

The revised Equal Employment Opportunity Act, which came into effect in 2007, bans so-called indirect gender discrimination by employers, such as imposing requirements that are difficult for women to meet in order to exclude them.

As of 2020, AGC Green-Tech had 20 career-track employees, all men, and six administrative staff, five of whom were women, according to chairman Takuro Bessho’s statement. The Tokyo-based company only allowed employees with career paths to use the corporate housing program.

According to the ruling, which was read by another judge on Bessho’s behalf, the different treatment between career and administrative employees did not constitute direct gender discrimination.

But the program, included in the company’s benefits package, “was applied virtually only to men,” the ruling said, concluding that the company committed indirect discrimination by disadvantaging women without rational reason.

The ruling also stated that it was illegal to continue the measure without taking corrective action.

“I have received a long-awaited answer,” the prosecutor told a news conference, welcoming the ruling. “I want (the company) to create a workplace free of discrimination, where women can express their opinions and demonstrate their capabilities more.”

“This is probably the first ruling in Japan that recognizes indirect gender discrimination,” said lawyer Kota Hirai. “It’s groundbreaking.”

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