Swedish university guilty of gender discrimination

A Swedish appeals court ruled on Monday that it was illegal for a university to prioritize men for its veterinary education programme, upholding a previous decision finding the institution guilty of illegal gender discrimination.

The Svea Court of Appeal found it was illegal for the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet – SLU) in Uppsala to prioritize men for its veterinary education programme. The appeals court upheld a previous decision by the district court, which found SLU guilty of illegal gender discrimination.

Fourty-four women who applied to Sweden’s only veterinary education programme in 2006 and 2007 filed a suit against the institution. Applicants were accepted via a weighted lottery whereby male students had a considerably greater chance of being admitted compared to their female counterparts with equivalent merits.

The admissions system accounted for the fact that more women than men study veterinary science, with the same over-representation among professionals. The Swedish government was of the opinion that the admissions procedure had a legal basis since it promoted equality within the veterinary profession.

The court awarded each female plaintiff 35,000 kronor ($4,800) in damages. The Swedish state is also to pay court costs amounting to 37,400 kronor.

The court ruled that the women were discriminated against in such a way that violates Swedish equality law, a point which the state has also conceded.

The law does allow discrimination on the basis of gender if there is demonstrably a goal that can be seen to override the general principle of preventing discrimination within higher education. The question for the court was whether or not the discrimination the women faced in this case was justifiable.

The appeals court said that the legal text did not provide any further guidance. SLU’s justification was to achieve a more equal gender balance within veterinary education and within the profession itself. But the institution of a weighted lottery for admissions gave women only a theoretical chance of gaining admission.

Such a measure, in effect excluding women from being admitted, was excessive in comparison to the limited effect the measure had in terms of creating equality in education and within the labour market, the court ruled.

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