Japanese women’s discrimination lawsuit upheld


In a major legal victory for Japan’s working women, a court on Friday upheld a lower court ruling that 12 women had been sexually discriminated in promotion and pay, ordering their company to give 180 million yen (US$1.6 million) in damages.

The Tokyo High Court handed down the ruling in a lawsuit initially filed in 1987 against Tokyo-based Shiba Credit Association. The legal battle has long been closely watched in male-dominated Japan as setting a precedent for decisions on sexual discrimination in the workplace.

In 1996, the Tokyo District Court told Shiba Credit Association that the female employees had been overlooked for the promotions they deserved compared to male workers. Shiba Credit Association had appealed.

Company officials were not available for comment Friday and it was unclear if they were considering a further appeal to the Supreme Court. Shiba Credit Association has previously denied discriminating against the women, saying it awarded promotions according to ability.

“I was kept in the lowest position no matter how many years I worked. And I was really working hard,” said Noriko Narumi, 56, who sued her employer of 38 years. “I couldn’t stand it.”

Narumi and others say they were repeatedly passed up for promotions. They kept failing the company tests for promotions partly because they never received the special training the men got.

They also suspect favoritism because many of the men would mysteriously pass the tests when they became a certain age.

Progress has been slow in Japan to correct sexual inequalities on campuses, in the office and elsewhere.

Although more and more women work alongside men, they tend to be assigned tedious chores, such as paperwork and even serving tea, and are never given the opportunities of their male colleagues. Furthermore, they are often expected to quit when they get married or have children.

“This is a landmark victory,” said Hisako Konno, an attorney for the women. “This is a victory for all talented women who want to do the same work as men.”