Foreign Lecturers in Italian universities: 30 years of illegal discrimination based on nationality

“The persistent refusal of the Italian university authorities to pay foreign lecturers on the same scale as Italian lecturers, to recognise continuity of employment and their refusal to hold fair competitions for full academic posts have been found to be in breach of European law and are, without doubt, the clearest mass systematic breaches of the treaty. The Irish Times 5 February 1999

“…a clear cut test of Europe’s commitment to labor mobility, which – along with a common currency – is key to the success of the EU’s vaunted single market. If teachers from Scotland can’t go to Italy to work, ‘Europe‘ won’t be much more than a nice idea.” The Wall Street Journal 2 December 1998

“How would you feel if you had been doing your job for several years and then your bosses suddenly say – actually your job isn’t that, we are now going to call it something else and we’re going to pay you 50% less?” Mark Whitaker, interviewing first secretary Fernando Gentilini at Italy’s permanent mission to the European Union in Brussels BBC File on Four 3 June 1997

“What trust can we citizens place in our rights under the treaties if a cosy club of commission, court and member state can agree that wrong has been done yet fail to ensure the wrong is righted.” The late Professor Sir Neil MacCormick Q.C., Regius Professor of Public Law and the Law of Nations at the University of Edinburgh, March 2007.

The Government needs to address the situation of British lecturers in Italy. The principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality is crucial to the single market.” William Hague MP, the Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary, Times Higher Education 4 January 2010.

“I feel strongly about this issue and hope the lettori soon get the recognition they deserve, in the form of equal status and pay. This is an injustice that can’t be allowed to continue.” Chris Bryant MP the then Minister for Europe, 26 February 2010.

Background In 1980, the Italian state, passed a decree law (DPR 382) granting tenure to its teaching staff at universities The lettori (foreigners teaching in their mother tongue) were excluded  and instead given  annual contracts renewable for 5 years. The decree stated that their salaries could not be higher than that of assistant professors at the beginning of their career. The lettori successfully challenged this law both in Italian courts and in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on the grounds of illegal discrimination based on nationality.

Italy abolished its offending law in 1995 and enacted law 236 which offered lettori new contracts as collaboratori ed esperti linguistic (CELs a category of technicians). Those refusing to accept the new contract were fired. Most were re-instated by the Italian courts. They successfully challenged law 236 of 1995 and on the 26 June 2001, the ECJ ordered Italy to reconstruct each lettore contract from the first day of the first contract.

Italy introduced new legislation in 2004, law 63, which stabilised the minimum salary an ex-lettore could be paid in 6 sample universities: Basilicata, Milan, Palermo, Pisa, Rome La Sapienza and Naples Orientale.

The European Commission took the Italian state to the ECJ which on 18 July 2006 , ruled that Italy had again failed to uphold its Treaty obligations. The Court however, declined to follow its Advocate General who sought daily fines of 309,750. The Court said that the Commission had not supplied the Court with sufficient information to permit it to find that the infringement was still taking place. For criticism of this judgment see Professor Sir Neil MacCormick QC and ECJ judge Colneric see allsinews1

Lettori successfully challenged (in the ECJ and in Italian administrative courts) Italian norms excluding them from applying for promoted posts. Despite this, university authorities are still refusing to implement these binding judgements which have direct effect. In 2009 ALLSI’s lawyers provided the European Commission with information showing that the universities of Cagliari, Cassino, Ferrara, Florence, Genova, Messina, Palermo, Perugia, Siena Udine and Urbino were still advertising posts in a way which would exclude non-Italian teaching staff from applying.

The current situation Of the 1000 lettori in employment on 9 February 1989, when the Italian Constitutional court declared Art. 28 of Decree law 382 unconstitutional, many have left their jobs or accepted settlements. However, 91 remain without any legal remedy. In addition 250 ex-lettori have not had their acquired rights respected (including increments for years of service) with some having retired or died without ever receiving their proper or any pension.


  1. 1980 Italian law Art 28, DPR 382 passed stating that lettori salaries could not be higher than that of assistant professors. In the years that follow lettori are re-deployed on annual contracts renewable for 5 years.
  2. 9 February 1989 On referral from a local court, the Italian Constitutional Court declares the 5-year norm illegitimate. The ruling would affect over 1,000 non-Italian teaching staff in over up to 30 universities
  3. 9 February 1993 The European Parliament in Strasbourg receives 65 students and lettori from the University of Verona – a petition is presented to President  Egon Klepsch – foreign teachers claim discrimination on the grounds of nationality concerning social security, pensions, security of tenure and progression of career.
  4. 30 May 1989 The European Court of Justice (ECJ): Pilar Allué and Carmel Coonan v Università degli Studi di Venezia, (33/88) finds Art 28 of DPR 382 to be in contrast with Article 48 of the Treaty of Rome since Italian workers do not have a 5-year renewability clause 61988J0033. Lettori continue to be employed under annual contracts. The Italian authorities argue that the ECJ judgment does not specifically prohibit annual contracts.
  5. 2 August 1993 The ECJ in Allué II° v Univeristà degli Studi di Venezia, (C-259/91, C-331/91 and C-332-92) declares annual lettori contracts illegal since Italian teachers enjoy open ended contracts 61991J0259. The Italian university authorities refuse to implement. On 12 October 1993 Bologna University sack its 78 lettori in flagrant contempt of the ECJ ruling.
  6. 21June 1995 Italian law 236 passed which abrogates the offending law (Article 28 of DPR 382) and offers priority to lettori in the selection process for new contracts as ‘linguistic experts’. Lettori who refuse to apply or accept are fired: 28 in Bologna, 25 in Naples Fed. II, 89 in Naples Oriental, 9 in Salerno and 22 in Verona. Most were reinstated by the local courts after a wait of up to a year.
  7. 13 July 1995 The European Parliament passes a resolution on human rights debate concerning abuses and mobbing in the University of Verona – Resolution B4 – 0968/95 European Parliament 
  8. 15 February 1996 The European Parliament passes a second resolution – concerning general practice of discrimination in Italian universities: Resolution B4 -0157 0194,0220 and 0235/96 European Parliament 
  9. 20 November 1997 The ECJ in David Petrie & others v University of Verona, C-90/96 (in conjunction with the Venice Regional Tribunal – 14 January 1999) rules that 3 lettori were illegally prevented from applying for supply teaching posts 61996J0090. ALLSI (Associazione Lettori di Lingua Straniera in Italia – the Association of Foreign Lecturers in Italy) is formed to represent and support the litgating lettori.
  10. 27 October 2000 The European Parliament passes a third resolution condemning discrimination and instructs the Commission to ascertain whether there are grounds to prosecute the Italian under Art 10 of the Treaties for failure to cooperate in applying EU law B5-0824/2000. That year there are over 1,000 lettori litigating. Cases are systematically blocked by legal filibustering – many cases have been in court for over 5 years, in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
  11. 26 June 2001 The ECJ in Commission (supported by the UK) v Italy Case C-212/99 61999J0212 rules that Italy has failed to fulfil its Treaty obligations concerning the lettori.
  12. 26 March 2003 The Veneto Regional Tribunal (David Petrie and Nicelda Provoste v University of Verona) decides (again! – see note 9) that the University of Verona’s refusal to accept lettori applications is in breach of the EU Treaty rules prohibiting discrimination on grounds of nationality.
  13. 14 January 2004 Italy introduces new legislation which the Commission considers to be inadequate. Commission Press Release: Commission to ask Court of Justice to impose daily fines of €309,750 on Italy in lettori case, 4 February 2004 IP/04/164
  14. 1 March 2005 The Consiglio di Stato in Rome rejects University of Verona’s appeal against Petrie + 2 – TAR del Veneto (see note 9).
  15. 18 July 2006 The ECJ in Commission of the European Communities vs Italian Republic Case C-119/04 rules that Italy failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 228 EC 62004J0119
  16. 15 May 2008 The ECJ Judgement Nancy Delay v Università degli studi di Firenze, Istituto Nazionale della Previdenza Sociale (INPS) and the Italian Republic Case C-276/07  rules that to refuse to take account of a foreign employee’s years of experience is discriminatory 62007J0276.
  17. 24 September 2010, the Consiglio di Stato (Italy’s Supreme Court for Administrative Law) Petrie +2 are awarded a total of €18,000 (+ interest and costs)  in damages for having been illegally excluded from recruitment procedures in breach of the EU Treaty prohibiting discrimination based on nationality (see note 9).
  18. 8 October 2010 ALLSI send the European Commission evidence that proves out of 83% of lettori are clearly not receiving their rights to equal treatment as interpreted by judgments of the European Court of Justice.
  19. 29 January 2011 law 240 of 2010 “the Gelmini Reform” – comes into force – Art. 26 re-establishes discrimination based on  nationality and “extinguishes” rights of lettori to have their legal claims adjudicated in a court of law.
  20. 6 January 2012, European Parliament, Committee  on Petitions, EU Citizezship Report 2010,  A7-0047/2012 Dismantling the obstacles to EU citizens rights   p. 19 par. 6  “Blatant discrimination on grounds of nationality was revealed on numerous occasions in the case of foreign language teachers (‘lettori’) in Italy, who have been struggling for decades against discriminatory treatment with respect to security of tenure, career development, pensions and social security.
  21. 4 July 2017, A full session of the Italian Supreme Court of Cassation, overrules the Delay ruling already adjudicated upon of the ECJ (see 15 above). Ms Delay’s lawyer requested Cassation to send this case to the ECJ as it is obliged to do under Article 267 of the Treaty.

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