French railway loses discrimination appeal against Moroccan workers
France's national rail operator on Wednesday lost its appeal against a finding that it discriminated against hundreds of Moroccan workers arriving in the post-colonial era, damaging their careers.
A court had in 2015 ordered rail company SNCF to pay more than 170 million euros ($212 million) in damages to more than 800 former staff, most of whom arrived in the 1970s from a newly independent Morocco.
The SNCF sought to overturn the decision, but the main appeals court in Paris ruled Wednesday that the 848 men had indeed suffered decades of discrimination that meant their careers ended up going nowhere.
Their lawyer Clelie de Lesquen-Jonas greeted the ruling -- which comes after more than a decade of legal wrangling in some of the workers' cases -- with a victory cry.
"We won!" she said, in tears, her arms raised in the air.
The court not only confirmed that the SNCF discriminated against the men in terms of career prospects and pensions, but they won extra damages for the psychological harm inflicted on them as a result, she said.
French people from immigrant backgrounds have long complained about discrimination in the workplace, and President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to penalise companies found to discriminate in terms of hiring or promotion.
The total sum of the new compensation package for the Moroccans was not yet available.
- 'Deep wounds' -
SNCF, which has staunchly denied discriminating against the men, said it would examine Wednesday's ruling for each of the cases and possibly appeal further, to a higher court.
The rail operator's lawyers had argued that the Moroccans did not move up through the company because they did not have the right qualifications.
The Moroccans had initially asked for 628 million euros to make up for years of prejudice in terms of training, pensions, healthcare and other conditions.
Hired at a time when the SNCF was hungry for manpower, the labourers were employed as contractors, which denied them the more comfortable working conditions granted to European staff and young recruits.
"The contractors had to work up until age 65, when the permanent workers got to leave at 55," said Brahim Ydir, one of the workers who pressed the case.
He and the others worked a decade longer for less pay, he said, without the same access to free healthcare.
Even those who later received French nationality and were awarded a permanent contract complained their careers had been deliberately curtailed.
"The justice system has worked well here," said Ahmed Mikali, another of the plaintiffs.
The compensation gives us "a recognition that is comforting, but the wounds are deep," he added.