Discrimination exists in Russia, but it’s nearly impossible to prove in court
Russian lawyers and human rights activists who have worked even a single case where they had to prove discrimination by sex, age, sexual orientation, or ethnicity will explain how it’s nearly impossible to win one of these lawsuits in Russia.
Judges usually refuse to go to trial, and the best case scenario is often a ruling that only partially satisfies a claim. Meduza looks at how Russians fight discrimination in court, and why it so rarely ends in anything but defeat.
On June 6, Otkritie Bank vice president and Tochka Bank co-founder Yana Gannik wrote on Facebook about how she hires new staff. In a post that she later deleted, Gannik explained: “I really love interviews. I found and interviewed almost all the guys on the team. It’s very important to me that anyone we invite shares our sense of beauty and strong life philosophy, and isn’t afraid to express his own opinion.”
Gannik said her latest go-to interview question has been: “Is Crimea ours?” In her Facebook post, she explained that it isn’t the substance of job candidates’ answers that interests her, but applicants’ readiness to express their opinions to a potential employer. She emphasized that she regards “over-the-top ultra-patriotic or, conversely, left-wing answers” to be evidence of “brainwashing” and unambiguous grounds for refusing to hire someone. She said she rejects anyone who refuses to answer her Crimea question, and anyone who won’t discuss politics more generally.
Gannik’s post made quite a splash. In comments on Facebook, angry readers reminded her that opinions about Crimea have no bearing on a person’s professional qualifications, and refusing to hire someone because of their political views violates both labor regulations and Russian criminal law. Critics say Gannik not only tarnished her personal reputation, but also disgraced Otkritie and Tochka. Some people even promised to move their money to different banks, in protest.
Two days later, Gannik published a detailed explanation, writing that she “loves her country and recognizes its laws,” and believes that Crimea belongs to Russia “factually and legally.” She also denied that she’s ever refused to hire someone because of their political views, insisting that her Facebook post had been misinterpreted.
The second chapter of the Russian Constitution says the state guarantees equal rights and freedoms “regardless of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, property and official status, place of residence, religion, convictions, membership of public associations, and also other circumstances.” A general ban on discrimination is enshrined in Article 5.62 of Russia’s Code of Administrative Offenses and Criminal Code Article 136. Offenders face finesas high as 300,000 rubles ($4,780), professional disqualifications for up to five years, and sometimes even prison sentences. The Labor Code also prohibitsdiscrimination: employers cannot reject or restrict Russians because of their age, sex, ethnicity, religion, or beliefs.
Despite all these protections, many employers wrote explicitly in job postings as recently as a few years ago that they were looking for men, or for women, and indicated that the positions were for people of a “suitable age,” and so on. Between 2009 and 2010, the Center for Social and Labor Rights and the Higher School of Economics conducted several studies in major Russian cities, finding that roughly 70 percent of job vacancy advertisements specified some kind of discriminatory hiring policy. “It never even occurred to anyone that this wasn’t okay,” says Elena Gerasimova, the director of the Center for Social and Labor Rights and an associate professor at the Higher School of Economics. “People were aware that we’ve banned discrimination, but they still wrote these job postings.”
In 2013, lawmakers expressly banned employers from advertising jobs that specify requirements for age, sex, ethnicity, skin color, marital status, membership of public associations, or other qualities with no professional bearing. For the past five years, anyone who indicates discriminatory hiring practices when promoting a job vacancy faces an administrative fine. Mikhail Tarasenko, a member of the State Duma’s Labor Committee and the author of the 2013 amendments, acknowledges that the reforms didn’t eradicate discrimination completely, but he says they have discouraged some companies. “There are unscrupulous employers who want a staff of nothing but salesgirls in their twenties,” Tarasenko explained. “And there are people who are law abiding and simply didn’t know this is against the law. Now they’ll accept applicants from people in their twenties and their thirties.”
Despite the legislative reforms, Russians still encounter job postings today that describe openly discriminatory hiring practices. In May 2018, an ad appeared in an employment group on Facebook promoting a vacancy at the “Kafeterius” cafe at Moscow’s Art. Lebedev Studio. To apply for the job, you needed “at least one year’s experience, a love of people, and a Slavic appearance.” Many Internet users expressed outrage that the company wouldn’t even accept applications from “non-Slavs,” but more than a few defended the discriminatory policy, arguing that employers have the right to make such demands if “clients feel more comfortable” when being served by Slavs, or when the establishment’s “central vision” requires workers who look a certain way.