Sweden's University of Gothenburg is under pressure to appoint a new professor of hydrospheric sciences after the European Court of Justice found that employment laws insisting on positive discrimination broke European Union rules.
The case was brought by Leif Anderson and Katarina Abrahamsson, both of whom failed to secure the chair, which was awarded to a female candidate, Elisabet Fogelqvist. Mr Anderson claimed that he should have been chosen because selectors ranked him above Ms Fogelqvist.
Because academia is considered to be a profession in which women are under-represented, the university cited national legislation that automatically grants priority to "candidates belonging to the under-represented sex". This is "subject only to the proviso that the difference between the merits of the candidates of each sex was not so great as to give rise to a breach of the requirement of objectivity".
Mr Anderson and Ms Abrahamsson turned to the university appeals board. The board asked the ECJ to rule on whether Swedish law broke EU legislation, and its judges ruled that it does.
They said that positive discrimination could not be justified where it "unconditionally gives priority to women when women and men are equally qualified".