Know what to do if you experience discrimination

Discrimination is prohibited and punishable by French law. If you have experienced discrimination, be it from a public or private organisation, there are some options to protect your rights.

Verified by Women for Women France on 29/11/2023

If you have experienced discrimination, there are avenues to obtain compensation for the harm it has caused you. You have a maximum period of five years to report the discriminsation.

What is involved?

Under French law, you have been discriminated against if the following three criteria are met:

  • you have received a less favourable treatment
  • in an area where discrimination is prohibited by the law
  • based on criteria of discrimination defined by the law.
  • French law prohibits discrimination in the following domains:

    • employment
    • education
    • housing
    • health
    • business
    • access to goods
    • public and private services.
  • French law recognises the following types of discrimination:

    • age
    • physical appearance
    • genetic characteristics
    • bank domiciliation
    • health
    • pregnancy
    • disability
    • gender
    • spoken language, i.e. the ability to speak in a language other than French
    • place of residence
    • cultural customs
    • name
    • philosophical opinions
    • political opinions
    • sexual orientation
    • origin
    • specific vulnerability linked to economic situation
    • loss of independence
    • presumed race, ethnicity, nationality: membership or non-membership
    • religion: belief or adherence or non-adherence
    • sex
    • family situation
    • trade unionism.

What to do if you experience discrimination

If you experience discrimination, you can report it within five years to obtain compensation for the harm it has caused you.

There are several ways to report discrimination:

  • file a complaint with the police, who will forward your report to a public prosecutor known as the “procureur de la République
  • hire a lawyer to advise you and help you defend your rights
  • contact a state department responsible for combating discrimination known as the “Défenseur des droits” to defend you.

Reporting and investigating discrimination against you will take place in parallel to any legal proceedings you have in progress. They will not put the legal proceedings on hold. For example, if you need to appeal a decision by the authorities, make sure you meet the deadlines set out in law.

  • Try to gather together any direct or indirect evidence or even hints that may demonstrate the discrimination you have experienced.

    However, you can report discrimination even if you have no evidence. The authorities will be able to investigate.

    Record the events

    You can start by writing down the facts that occurred chronologically and in detail, specifying the place, date and time.

    Gather evidence

    Try to gather all the elements that can prove the existence of discrimination or harassment, for example:

    • letters
    • e-mails
    • text messages
    • video or audio recordings
    • witness statements from others
    • medical certificates.

    Carry out a discrimination test

    If you feel that you have been discriminated against, for example when applying for a job or housing, you can do a discrimination test called “testing”.

    This test consists of sending two comparable applications for the same offer by modifying only the characteristic likely to expose them to discrimination.

    If you receive a different answer to the two applications, this can be used as evidence to proove the discrimination you have subjected to.

  • If you choose to call on the “Défenseurs des droits”, which is known as “saisir” the “Défenseur des droits”, there are several ways to do so:

    • fill in a form online
    • send a letter free of charge (you do not need to add a stamp) to the following address:
      "Défenseur des droits
      Libre réponse 71120
      75342 Paris Cedex 07"
    • contact a representative of the “Défenseur des droits near you to meet them, so that they can advise you and help you with each step (language spoken: mainly French)
    • call 3928 or 09 69 39 00 00 Monday to Friday (except holidays) from 9.30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (languages spoken: French, English, Spanish)
    • chat online on the national Anti-discrimination platform from Monday to Friday (except holidays) from 9.30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (languages spoken: French, English, Spanish)
    • use the service for deaf and people with a hearing impairment, open Monday to Friday (except holidays) from 9.30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

    Remember to include your contact details in all your correspondence so that you can be easily reached.

    Once your report has been received, the “Défenseur des droits” will check whether it is considered discrimination under law and provide a response:

    • first they will look for an amicable settlement with the perpetrator of discrimination
    • if this way of resolving the issue is not appropriate, they will leverage other solutions to enable you to obtain redress.

    If you haven’t heard anything about your report after two months, you can contact them again to find out how your application is progressing.

Common concerns

  • It is common to fear the potential consequences of reporting discrimination; being afraid of what may happen if the authorities or your employer learns about it, for example. But by reporting the discrimination you could obtain redress for the harm it caused you.

    French law protects you by punishing those who retaliate against someone who has reported discrimination or harassment. If this is the case, you can make a new report to the police or the “Défenseur des droits”, or seek advice from a lawyer.

  • You have the right to file a complaint and ask the “Défenseur des droits” to protect your rights, even if you don't have residency rights.

    The police do not have the right to place you in detention for this. Applicable law: Article 15–3 of the Penal Code.

    If possible, notify someone close to you or an organisation offering free services known as an “association” specialised in law for foreign nationals that you are going to file a complaint. This will make you feel safer if the police do not comply with the law.

Find support

In France, there are many services that can support you, give you advice, and assist you with procedures and paperwork. Most of them are free of charge.

  • The centres called “point-justice” bring together various organisations that give you legal advice depending on your situation, and sometimes help you with your administrative procedures.

    • These services are free of charge.
    • These centres have many names: “Maison de Justice et du Droit (MJD)”, “Point d’accès au droit (PAD)”, "Relais d’accès au droit (RAD)”, “Antenne de justice (AJ)” or “France services (FS)”.
    • Languages available: mainly French.
    • You can find a “point-justice” near you :
      • on this online directory.
      • by telephone on 3039 from mainland France and on +33 9 70 82 31 90 from overseas. They will ask you for your postal code and put you in touch with a “point-justice”. Languages available: mainly French.
  • Défenseur des droits” defends people who are victims of discrimination from public and private structures.

While the utmost care has gone into providing you with the most accurate and up to date information, this page is not intended to replace legal or professional advice. Laws and procedures change regularly so it is important to consult qualified professionals.

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