PARIS (AFP) - A French employment tribunal sparked outrage on Friday (April 8) after ruling that a hair salon boss was not guilty of homophobia despite calling a gay employee a "faggot" in a text message explaining his dismissal.
In a ruling that critics said could encourage homophobia, the Paris tribunal opined that the slur was not homophobic because "it is known that hairdressers regularly employ homosexual people".
The male employee, who was working for a trial period, received a text message that his boss, a woman, sent to him in error reading: "I am not keeping (the plaintiff) on, I'll tell him tomorrow... I don't like this guy, he's a faggot, they're all up to no good."
The plaintiff was indeed told the following day that he would not be given a permanent job at the salon.
He took his case to the Prud'hommes, which settles disputes between employers and employees, saying he had been discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and had been deeply hurt by the content of the text message.
The hairdressers said the employee was let go because he was "slow" and had "trouble fitting in", refused to do certain tasks and "aimed to quickly get a management position".
The tribunal, while recognising the "inappropriate nature and content of the text message", said the term used - pede (PD), short for pederast - "has entered into day-to-day language and has no pejorative or homophobic meaning in the manager's mind".
In its Dec 16 ruling, the tribunal said: "Putting itself in the context of the hairdressing milieu, the tribunal considers that the term 'PD' used by the manager cannot be construed as homophobic because it is known that hairdressing salons regularly employ homosexual people, notably in women's hairdressing salons, without encountering problems."
While ruling that the employer did not discriminate against the employee, the tribunal awarded him 5,000 euros (S$7,700) for moral prejudice "because injurious words were used".
The plaintiff's defender informed gay rights groups of the ruling on Thursday, setting off a torrent of criticism on social media.
"Absurd reasoning... A homophobe who employs a homosexual is still a homophobe," read one tweet.
The ruling "may worsen the homophobic climate, which is already bad", said Ms Clemence Zamora-Cruz, spokesman of the group Inter-LGBT.
She said discrimination against gays rarely gets a hearing because the victims "prefer to keep quiet".
The decision was "clearly homophobic", said Mr Nicolas Noguier, who runs a shelter for victims of homophobia. "Condensed into three or four lines, it's really all the insults that the young people we help are subjected to."
The plaintiff plans to appeal the decision.