Allée v. France: Defamation Laws and the Right to Speak Out, Safeguarding Victims of Workplace Harassment

Allée v. France: Defamation Laws and the Right to Speak Out,  Safeguarding Victims of Workplace Harassment
European Court of Human Rights


Roza Cseby

Women’s Rights Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defence.

The recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR, or the Court) in the Allée v. France (2024) case marks a significant milestone towards making it easier to report sexual harassment in the workplace. In France, and potentially in other jurisdictions, failure to substantiate claims of sexual harassment may result in facing a defamation lawsuit. The dismissal of a case alleging sexual harassment often serves as critical evidence in establishing a defamation claim (Bonucci, 2024). In the present case, the Paris Criminal Court found the applicant and her husband guilty of public defamation of a private individual. Consequently, the applicant appealed to the ECtHR in May 2020 by asserting that her criminal conviction for defamation infringed upon her freedom of expression rights, enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECtHR, 2024). 

Vanessa Allée, a French national residing in Courbevoie, was employed as a secretary in a faith-based educational association in Paris where she worked closely with A., the executive vice-chair. Alleging harassment by A., she requested a transfer in July 2015. Matters escalated when, in June 2016, Vanessa's husband, B., sent SMS messages accusing A. of harassment and assault to the association's managing director and A.'s son, who was also the association's spiritual director. The managing director suggested Vanessa take sick leave until a solution could be reached, prompting Vanessa to send an email titled "Sexual assault, sexual and mental harassment" to the managing director, copying several individuals, including the State Labour Inspector and A.'s family members (ECtHR, 2024).

On June 24, 2016, B. posted a message on Facebook reiterating Vanessa's allegations, leading to legal action by A. for public defamation against both Vanessa and B. The Paris Criminal Court found them guilty in January 2018. Vanessa appealed, citing a violation of Article 10 of the Convention and the "whistle-blowing right" under the Labour Code. However, in a November 26, 2019 judgment, the Court of Cassation upheld the previous decision, emphasizing that the Court of Appeal had deemed the allegations sufficiently precise for their truthfulness to be challenged, and noted the lack of proof of sexual assault (ECtHR, 2024). 

In its ruling, the Court highlighted that the email leading to the applicant's criminal conviction was sent during a tense situation blending her work and personal life. Additionally, the Court observed that the email, addressed by the applicant to six individuals, with only one being an external party, had a negligible impact on the reputation of her alleged harasser. Emphasizing the importance of providing adequate protection to individuals alleging mental or sexual harassment under Article 10, the Court concluded that the domestic courts had imposed an undue burden of proof on the applicant, insisting she provide evidence of the acts she aimed to report (ECtHR, 2024). 

Lastly, while the imposed financial penalty on the applicant by the domestic court wasn't deemed notably severe, it's crucial to recognize that the applicant was convicted of a criminal offence. Such a conviction inherently carries a chilling effect, potentially dissuading individuals from reporting serious allegations such as mental or sexual harassment, or even sexual assault. The Court determined that the restriction on the applicant's freedom of expression lacked a reasonable proportionality to the legitimate aim pursued. As a result, it held that there was a violation of Article 10 of the Convention (ECtHR, 2024). 

Sources and further readings:

ECtHR (2024, January 18).  The applicant’s criminal conviction for public defamation following claims of mental and sexual harassment breached Article 10 of the Convention [Press Release]. Registrar of the Court. Retrieved 1 February 2024 from

Bonucci, N. (2024). Comment on the Allée v. France case. Linkedin. Retrieved 1 February 2024 from

ECtHR (2024, January 18). AFFAIRE ALLÉE c. FRANCE. (Requête no 20725/20). Retrieved 1 February 2024 from