Gender and ethnicity the main reasons for workplace discrimination

The majority of the 64 complaints about discrimination handled by the Danish Board of Equal Treatment in 2009 were related to gender and ethnicity. The board ruled in favour of the complainant in 34 of these cases. The board’s annual report stresses that there are a number of difficulties associated with the handling of discrimination-related cases and that problems in measuring discrimination obscure the overall picture in Denmark as to its severity.

The establishment of the Danish Board of Equal Treatment (Ligebehandlingsnævnet) in 2009 made it possible for people to lodge complaints about all discrimination-related issues covered by EU legislation. In addition to gender and ethnicity, the issues that people could file complaints over were extended to include discrimination on the basis of age, disability, sexual orientation, political views, religion, and social and national origin.

Level of discrimination measured by number of complaints

According to the Board of Equal Treatment’s annual report 2009 (in Danish, 1.64Mb PDF), the board received 200 complaints related discrimination in 2009. The report also states that the majority of received and settled complaints were related to gender and ethnicity.

In 2009, the Board of Equal Treatment made a total of 64 judgements of which 32 complaints related to gender, 22 complaints related to ethnicity and 10 complaints related to other issues (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Number of judgments by type of issue, 2009


Notes: ‘Other’ contains complaints due to age and disability. Note that with regard to gender and ethnicity the board also deals with complaints outside the labour market.

Source: Board of Equal Treatment, 2009

Of these 64 cases, the board ruled in favour of the complainant in 34 cases of which 22 related to gender, four related to ethnicity and eight related to age (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Number of rulings in favour of complainant, 2009


Source: Board of Equal Treatment, 2009

In 2009, the board received complaints related to gender, ethnicity, age and disability. It did not receive any complaints related to sexual orientation, political views, social and national origin or religion.

Difficulties in measuring the level of discrimination

In its report, the Board of Equal Treatment stresses there can be difficulties associated with solving a discrimination-related case that may lead to it being rejected. The most common reasons for rejecting a case are:

  • lack of basic information about the case necessary in order to handle the complaint;
  • conflicting explanations between the parties involved in the case;
  • lack of evidence;
  • the case is not within the board’s area of competence.

Conflicting explanations and lack of evidence are particularly an issue in cases related to race and ethnicity, as the parties in such cases often have a contradictory view of the situation leading to the complaint. The board is often forced to turn down the case as it does not have the ability to obtain the oral testimonies crucial in such cases in making a judgment.

Another problem related to measuring discrimination is that people often do not file a complaint when being discriminated against. The director of the Board of Equal Treatment emphasises that the figures in its annual report do not necessarily reflect the actual level of discrimination in Denmark as the majority of people do not file a complaint. A study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) also found that the majority of ethnic minorities do not file a complaint when suffering discrimination.

It is therefore important to be aware that there is a gap between the level of discrimination measured by the number of complaints filed and the actual level of discrimination in Denmark.

Stine Milling and Helle Ourø Nielsen, Oxford Research

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