The Air France cabin crew dress code permitted women who had braided hair to wear it tied up in a chignon. This option was not offered for men, who were required to wear their hair neatly and no longer than collar length.
An Air France steward who had braided hair that he wore tied up in a chignon was disciplined, and ultimately dismissed, for failing to respect the dress code.
The steward believed his dismissal was discriminatory and challenged it, claiming damages. His appeal was rejected by a tribunal, and then by the Court of Appeal, which found that Air France’s brand image required it to have a dress code and that the distinction in the dress code between male and female hairstyles was based on social convention.
The Court of Cassation was then asked to rule on whether a dress code that restricted male employees’ freedom to style their hair was sex discrimination.
The Court of Cassation ruling
The Court stated that the Labour Code only authorises differences in treatment that reflect essential professional requirements. The employer’s objective in imposing them must be legitimate and what is required of employees must be proportionate.
Case law has also established that the demands made of employees must be founded objectively in the employee’s job and not merely reflect the employer’s subjective wishes.
The Court found that only allowing women and not men to have braided hair was a difference in treatment solely based on the employee’s sex. There was no objective reason related to the steward’s job for preventing him from having braids. The Court considered that a hairstyle was not part of Air France staff’s uniform (it did not allow customers to identity members of air crew).
The Court also held that social convention and the common perception of male and female appearance were not an objective and necessary reason related to the steward’s job that could justify treating him differently on the basis of his sex.
As a result, the Court concluded that it was not possible to forbid men from having a hairstyle that was authorised for women.