Germany's Federal Labor Court on Thursday rules on the case of a young woman who wanted to train as a pilot with Lufthansa, but was rejected because she was considered too short.
The Federal Labor Court ruling comes almost two years after a state labor court in Cologne rejected the young woman's lawsuit against Lufthansa's height restrictions for pilots.
Lufthansa company policy stipulates that pilots must measure at least 165 cm (5'5"). At 161.5 cm, the woman was not tall enough to be a pilot, Lufthansa said - and refused to admit her into the pilot training program. So she sued the German airline on grounds of discrimination, demanding 135,000 euros ($150,000) in damages and compensation. She lost - and appealed the Cologne court's decision before the Erfurt-based Federal Labor Court.
Lufthansa argues the height requirement, which is part of the airline's collective labor agreement, has nothing to do with gender, but with security. 860 women work as commercial pilots in Germany.
Reach pedals and controls
"A Lufthansa airline pilot must at all times be able to reach all cockpit controls - in each and every plane in the airline's entire fleet, which includes the A380, the world's largest passenger plane," Lufthansa Group spokesman Helmut Tolksdorf told DW.
"I can tell you from my own experience that a certain height is necessary when flying a commercial plane. Depending on what I have to reach in the cockpit, even I, a tall guy at almost 1.90 meters (6'3"), have to stretch," Markus Wahl, 36, pilot and spokesman for the Association of German Airline Pilots and Flight Engineers told DW.
Airlines across the globe have different physical requirements for pilots. Air Canada and United do not have pilot height requirements, but many airlines do require a minimum/maximum height.
In the case of Germany's Lufthansa, the height requirement for pilots applies to the parent company, but not necessarily to its subsidiaries, Tolksdorf said. Swiss, for instance, accepts a minimum height from pilots of 1.60 meters.
But Lufthansa is currently reassessing its pilot selection and training criteria with the aim of standardizing them within the group, the spokesman said.
Many airlines have height minimums for pilots because many controls are on the ceiling of the cockpit
Justified by a legitimate aim?
While Lufthansa takes a long hard look at its requirements for pilots, the Federal Labor Court is set to announce its ruling on whether indirect discrimination was involved in the German airline's rejection of the would-be female pilot - a distinct possibility as women are on average shorter than men, which gives fewer women a chance at pilot training with Lufthansa.
According to EU law, indirect discrimination "takes place where an apparently neutral criterion would put a person at a particular disadvantage."
Should the court confirm a case of indirect discrimination, press spokesman Waldemar Reinfelder said, the next step would be examining whether specific job requirements are justified, in this case the airline's height requirement.
It's the first time the Erfurt Federal Labor Court is to rule on a case focusing on a plaintiff's height, the court press spokesman told DW. And the case "is still wide open" in his view.