Supreme Court tackles "lettori" discrimination scandal

The Aula Magna at the Italian Court of Cassation

ROME- The long running scandal over Italian universities' discrimination against foreign lecturers, known as “lettori,” climaxed Tuesday with a pivotal hearing by a full session of Italian Court of Cassation judges in the highest-level judicial review of the affair on the peninsula so far.

 All four cases of discrimination were examined by the 12 Supreme Court judges wearing black togas in the court building’s spectacular Aula Magna. The lecturers' lawyer, Professore Avvocato Lorenzo Picotti, thoroughly outlined the relevant arguments for the cases concerning compensation owing to staff at the universities of Florence, Venice, Naples “Parthenope" and Catania. 

 Following the hearing, it was expected the results will not be announced before October of this year in keeping with Supreme Court protocol. It was the first time that a full session of Cassation judges has addressed the lettori issue, which the British Government has been pressing Italy to resolve for years. 

 The saga of hundreds of lecturers' shabby treatment in Italy dates backs to the late 1980s and despite the European Court of Justice (ECJ) continually ruling in favour of the “lettori” suffering discrimination based on nationality with regards to equal pay, duration of contract, and access to jobs and pension packages, legislation implemented by the Berlusconi administration in 2011 has prevented a solution from being reached.

 The aforementioned legislation is known as the “Gelmini law”, which essentially entitles the Italian Supreme Court to legislate over the European Court of Justice, interpreting the verdict as it sees fit.

 As a result, the law has been heavily criticised by legal observers in relation to the “lettori” cases, as they believe it was only introduced to prevent the Italian government from paying out more in lost cases.

 “At a hearing of the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament on 25 January 2011, we predicted that the Gelmini law would result in chaos and further litigation,” the Chairman of the Association of Foreign Lecturers in Italy, David Petrie, told the Insider.

 “The ECJ clearly laid down the principles to be followed in Italy, but Gelmini leap-frogs the ECJ replacing clarity with uncertainty. That is what we witnessed today,” he added.

 The details of each of the cases were laid out by the Supreme Court judges, beginning with the case of Belgian foreign language teacher, Nancy Delay, against the University of Florence, who had previously had her case favourably ruled upon by the ECJ back in 2008.

 Next was the case of British lecturer Barbara Dawes against the University of Naples “Parthenope”, before those of Arabic teachers Elie Kallas and Issam Labanyeh, and British lecturer Irene McBain against the University of Venice. 

The judges then heard from lawyers Avvocato Carlo Lepore and Avvocato Massimo De Luca in defence of a number of staff at the University of Catania.

 The cases were introduced by the judges in a somewhat synthetic fashion, with some anonymous members of the audience suggesting that the cases might have been poorly researched by those involved.

 It is hoped by the “lettori” that the Italian Court of Cassation will follow the favourable ECJ ruling laid down in the Nancy Delay case back in 2008, which affirmed that Ms. Delay was entitled to the same treatment as national workers, and that the employment relationship must be considered as one single relationship regarding seniority increments, social security rights and pension.

 If the Italian Court of Cassation fails to rule according to the ECJ, then it is likely to ring alarm bells in Brussels, as it will mean that a domestic court has overruled the authority of the ECJ.

 It remains possible that the Court of Cassation will suspend its judgement, in which case it would be incumbent to refer the cases to the ECJ in order to establish a verdict.  

 However, it is feared the Supreme Court would be unlikely to do so, in order to avoid damaging its prestige.

 Nevertheless, if this were to happen, it would mean the “lettori” affected by the rulings would have to prolong their wait for justice, as it would likely take up to two years to adjudicate the cases at the ECJ, not taking into account the number of years the verdict would take to trickle down to each individual case.

 “During the first week of September I am seeing Jude Kirton-Darling MEP, who has written to Commission President Juncker as guarantor of the EU Treaty. It took 30 years to build the pyramids, it should not take the same length of time to guarantee reciprocal rights, equal and fair treatment to all EU citizens in the place of work.,” concluded Petrie’s comments.


Professor Avvocato Lorenzo Picotti (left) with chairman of the Association of Foreign Lecturers in Italy David Petrie (right)