Polish Supreme Court Declares Religion Teacher's Dismissal Unlawful

The Court ruled that the teacher's dismissal violated his rights and that a lower court had acted correctly in reinstating him to his position.

The Polish Supreme Court has ruled that the dismissal of Piotr Janowicz from his position as a religion, history and civic education teacher was unlawful and in violation of his trade union protection. The decision, announced on 3 July 2019, confirmed the decision of the trial and appellate courts reinstating him is the teaching position.

Janowicz, a former religion teacher in Poland, has also been teaching history and civic education classes for the past couple years. In 2014, during his last year of service, Janowicz was almost entirely occupied with teaching history. At the same time, he was granted special trade union protection, which prevented his dismissal without the union’s approval.

No permission to teach religion

At the request of the school’s headmaster, a bishop revoked Janowicz’s official permission to teach religion at the institution. The school administration then claimed that, in accordance with the provisions of the Teacher’s Charter, the revocation of the teacher’s permission to teach religion obliged it to terminate his employment, irrespective of any trade union protection he had.

The trial and appellate court both held that Janowicz’s dismissal was unlawful. The courts found that the school administration had taken advantage of a special and simplified dismissal procedure for religion teachers in order to deprive the teacher of trade union protection and terminate his employment.

The Regional Court of Poznań ruled that Piotr Janowicz should be reinstated to the position of a history teacher because his dismissal violated a number of laws governing termination of employment contracts, including the relevant provisions of the Teacher’s Charter, and awarded him remuneration for the entire period he was out of work.

Supreme Courts' decision

The school challenged the judgment of the Poznań court by lodging an appeal in cassation with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal.

At the request of Liberties member the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Janowicz was represented pro bono by lawyers Piotr Kryczek and Weronika Papucewicz, from the firm Chajec, Don-Siemion & Żyto. He was also assisted by Justyna Klimek, a legal advisor trainee with Bartoszewska Binkowski. The HFHR presented an amicus curiae brief to the Regional Court of Poznań.

“The Supreme Court found that Piotr Janowicz had in fact obtained the double status of a nominated teacher. On the one hand, he was a religious teacher, and on the other hand, as a result of having been given the full teaching load of history and civics teacher and fulfilling the conditions set out in the Teacher’s Charter, he also became a nominated teacher of other subjects. The Court also emphasised that Mr Janowicz was appropriately reinstated to the post of a history teacher because he was also entitled to special trade union protection against termination of his employment contract,” said Mr Kryczek.
“Courts of all instances disapproved of the use of the simplified procedure of dismissing religion teachers that ignores the special protection afforded to union members because Mr Janowicz acquired his teaching position as a teacher of other subjects, not only religion. The school was considered to have been acting in bad faith. However, there still remains an interpretation of law that deprives religion teachers of special protection of the stability of the employment relationship. As far as their employment is concerned, religion teachers should be treated in the same way as all other teachers,” explained Jarosław Jagura, a lawyer working for the HFHR.