For decades, they have been pursuing compensation for income lost as the result of a 1980 law giving them annual contracts renewable for five years while Italian nationals were granted tenure.
But in January 2011, the so-called Gelmini law explicitly reinterpreted a 2001 decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and “extinguished” all the ongoing lawsuits.
This law - which David Petrie, chair of the Association of Foreign Lecturers in Italy, described as “a race law both in purpose and in effect” – was used by three universities to push through salary cuts of up to 60 per cent for some lettori earlier this year.
Furthermore, when three lettori were awarded compensation for unpaid wages in December 2011, the University of Brescia appealed citing the Gelmini law.This case came before the Brescia Court of Appeal on 11 July.
The court neither sought guidance from the CJEU on any discrepancies between national and community law nor looked again at the evidence but simply extinguished the earlier judgment. Campaigners fear this will set a precedent for other still unresolved cases.
“The court’s first responsibility was to follow the CJEU,” said Mr Petrie. “Our lawyer was stunned by decision and we are too.”
In a separate development, the issue of the lettori was raised by Andrew Brigden, MP for Northwest Leicestershire, in the House of Commons on 11 July.
In response, David Lidington, minister for Europe, condemned the “unacceptable and illegal” discrimination against the lecturers and said that the government was putting pressure on the Italian authorities to reconsider the matter.
Although this did not currently include plans to exclude Italy from the Erasmus and Bologna processes, he added that they would “continue to look at all available options to encourage a prompt resolution to the issue”.