In 2018, a woman applied for the position of university lecturer in Theoretical Philosophy. A selection board invited five candidates, including the woman. She was invited for an interview via video link on 14 June 2018. The board also requested the woman to give a trial lecture to students on 25 June. Two weeks before the interview, the woman informed the selection board that she was heavily pregnant and that the baby was due at any time. She asked the board to postpone the interview and the trial lecture.

Prohibited discrimination

The president of the board initially proposed waiting to decide until the day before the interview. When he approached her that day, she had just given birth and would be in hospital for several more days. He adhered to the date of 25 June for the trial lecture; the interview would be postponed until after the lecture. The woman subsequently notified the board that she would be unable to give the lecture on 25 June. The faculty did not wish to postpone the process any further, as this would cause a further delay due to the summer holiday. The woman was ultimately not chosen for the position.

According to the woman, the university had discriminated against her on the ground of sex, by not making allowances for the birth of her child. The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights agreed with that conclusion. “The Institute therefore concludes that the [university] discriminated against [the woman] on the ground of sex in the […] application process by not making allowances for her due date.”


Ed Brinksma, voorzitter van het CvB
Image credit: Ronald van den Heerik

ESPhil-dean Hub Zwart wants his faculty to learn from the incident. “This decision is an incentive to go further. No one wants a candidate to feel that they were not given a fair chance.” Zwart has announced two faculty measures: firstly, vacancy planning will be extended to take into account any pregnancies. “We now had very few options. We wanted all the candidates to give a lecture to the same group, but the holiday was due to start soon after 25 June. That would have postponed the process for months.”

A second measure is that external members will be more frequently invited to be part of a selection board. “This will be good for diversity but will also give us an opportunity to invite women to sit on the board more often.”

Black and white

However, Zwart emphasised that the woman only mentioned her pregnancy late on in the process, which gave the board few options. “We wanted to keep the circumstances the same for all candidates. That meant an interview via video link and that they would all give a lecture to the same group of students on the same day. It was therefore very complicated to delay the date so soon before the summer holiday.”

Zwart also claims that the faculty tried to talk to the woman on several occasions but that she was unwilling to engage. “She wanted a ruling of principle. Personally, I feel it is a shame that it was juridified. The decision is therefore very black and white, although the actual case is probably grey.” Following the decision of the Institute, the faculty has invited the woman, who has since accepted a position elsewhere, to come for an interview.

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