Press Release

IACHR refers case on Costa Rica to the Inter-American Court

April 05, 2021

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Washington, D.C. - On March 24, 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed the case of Luis Fernando Guevara Díaz regarding Costa Rica before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case refers to the violation of Mr. Guevara's human rights in the context of a public competition in the Ministry of Finance in which he was not selected because of his disability and which led to his dismissal.

Luis Fernando Guevara Díaz was appointed on an interim basis in the Ministry of Finance as a miscellaneous worker in June 2001 and subsequently participated in a competition to fill the position. On June 13, 2003, he was notified that he had not been selected, and therefore his interim position would cease on June 16, 2003. Mr. Guevara indicated that this was due to a report from the Ministry of Finance that recommended not to hire him due to "his problems of retardation and emotional block". The State, on the other hand, alleged that the report was not taken into account in the selection process and that, although the victim was part of the short list of candidates, according to the law, the authority has the discretionary power to select any of the three candidates, regardless of their qualifications.

The appeal filed by Mr. Guevara against the termination decision was denied on the grounds that there were no omissions or irregularities in the procedure that would indicate unequal treatment. On the other hand, in the framework of an amparo proceeding, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice dismissed the appeal, considering that it was not its responsibility to analyze the legality of the decision, since it was an exercise of discretionary powers, and that the victim participated in the competition under the same conditions as the other candidates. Although the victim later obtained a favorable decision in an appeal before the General Labor Inspectorate, the appeal was finally dismissed after the decision issued by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice.

In its Merits Report, the IACHR analyzed whether, beyond the discretionary power invoked by the State, there are elements to consider that the real reason why the victim was not selected was his condition as a person with intellectual disability. This, in light of the presumption of discrimination that corresponds when the difference in treatment is based on one of the categories established in Article 1(1) of the American Convention, such as disability.

The Commission observed that the State did not provide a detailed and precise response to rebut the presumption of discrimination and considered that the mere invocation of reasons of discretion, without providing further explanations, reinforces the indications of discrimination. It considered that the lack of an adequate response from the State, as well as various elements that emerge from the case file taken as a whole, lead to the conclusion that the decision not to hire the victim was based on his condition as a person with an intellectual disability. Taking into account that this was a case of covert discrimination, the IACHR considered that it was not appropriate to analyze the reasonableness or proportionality of the distinction in treatment, since the mere fact of its veiled nature proves that it is an arbitrary restriction.

On the other hand, the Commission considered that in the present case, the reasoning of the decisions was fundamental, since the subject in question was a person in need of special protection due to his situation of vulnerability. In this regard, it considered that, in cases such as this, the motivation has a reinforced character, so it should have included at least the following components: 1) a substantive analysis on the allegation of discrimination that is not limited to ratifying the authority's discretion and that makes it possible to rebut the presumption of arbitrary distinction of treatment that operates with respect to the category of disability; 2) in case it is proven that the disability was the reason for discrimination, an assessment of whether the disability would be incompatible with the essential functions of the position, even if reasonable accommodations were introduced; 3) a substantive analysis of compliance with the principle of material equality or the State's duty to adopt positive measures to guarantee access to and permanence in the workplace for persons with disabilities; and 4) an analysis of whether the State made the minimum efforts to relocate the victim to another position suitable for his or her condition.

The Commission concluded that the authorities that denied the appeal and the amparo did not provide an adequate motivation, since they merely indicated that the victim participated under equal conditions in the framework of the competition, which, on the one hand, is not in accordance with the available evidence and, on the other hand, is not sufficient since in cases such as this, there is a duty of the States to adopt positive measures to guarantee access to and permanence in the workplace for persons with disabilities. Likewise, the Commission considered that the response in the amparo violated the right to judicial protection, since it did not allow the victim a substantive review of her allegation of discrimination, limiting itself to ratifying the grounds of discretion.

In view of the foregoing, the Commission concluded that the State of Costa Rica is responsible for the violation of the rights to judicial guarantees, judicial protection, equality before the law and the right to work established in Articles 8(1), 24, 25(1) and 26 of the American Convention in relation to the obligations established in Article 1(1) of the same instrument, to the detriment of Luis Fernando Guevara Díaz.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State:

  1. 1. Reincorporate the victim into the public service in a position of equal or higher category than the one he or she held at the time of his or her dismissal. In the event that this is not the will of the victim or that there are objective reasons that prevent reinstatement, the State must pay compensation for this reason, which is independent of the reparations for material and moral damages included in the following recommendation.
  2. 2. Adequately repair the human rights violations declared in the Merits Report in both material and moral aspects.
  3. 3. Adopt measures of non-repetition necessary to prevent similar events from occurring in the future. In particular, adopt legislative, administrative or other measures to prevent discrimination on the basis of disability and promote the inclusion in employment of such persons: i) carry out training programs for public officials and justice operators on the prohibition of discrimination in employment based on disability, and the obligation to adopt positive measures to ensure access and permanence in the workplace of persons with disabilities; ii) Adopt measures to promote the employment of persons with disabilities in the public sector and to allow their stability and promotion in the workplace.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 084/21