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Nokia lawsuit (re HBV discrimination in China)


In 2007, a Chinese job applicant sued Nokia alleging discriminatory employment practics because of his Hepatitis-B status. The court ruled against the plaintiff because he was unable to authenticate a recording between himself and a Nokia human resources employee which was relied on as evidence at trial.

Factual Background

A Chinese job applicant alleged that Nokia China cancelled plans to hire him after he underwent a company medical examination and tested positive for the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). Government and scholarly sources estimate that between 90 and 130 million Chinese people carry HBV, and many of them suffer workplace discrimination because of this status.  Chinese government regulations prohibit employment discrimination based on HBV status.  The government has publicly reminded employers of these prohibitions to try to discourage discrimination against HBV carriers.

Legal Argument

The applicant sued Nokia for discriminatory employment practices. He claimed 500,000 yuan (about $70,000) in emotional damages in what is reported to be the first HBV discrimination case against a foreign multinational in China. 

Legal Proceeding 

In March 2007, the individual filed suit. The Dongguan People’s Court accepted the case in May 2007, and court proceedings commenced in August 2007.  Nokia claimed that it denied the applicant employment because another candidate was more competent for the position, and because he was colour-blind.  Nokia pointed out that it had hired several workers for the Nokia Dongguan factory who are HBV carriers. 

The applicant submitted a recording of a conversation between himself and a Nokia human resources employee, in which the Nokia employee implied that his HBV status was the reason the company would not hire him.  Nokia denied that the person on the recording was employed by Nokia.  

At the conclusion of the proceedings, the judge decided to conduct a retrial of the case.  The retrial of the case was taken by the Dongguan Intermediate Court, and it took place on 31 July 2008.  On the same day, the applicant filed a public complaint against the responsible judges of Dongguan Intermediate Court for unduly closing the trial to the public.

Latest Update

On 22 October 2008, Dongguan Intermediate Court ruled against the applicant.  The court ruled against the applicant because he was unable to authenticate the recording of the conversation between himself and a Nokia human resources employee on which he relied during the trial.

Chinese HBV carrier sued Nokia, complaining about the Second Instance by Dongguan Intermediate Court's lack of Transparency, Boxun News, 31 Jul 2008 [Chinese language only]

One of the Ten Most Important Labour Dispute Cases of 2007: Nokia HBV Discrimination Case, Legal Daily, 20 Jan 2008 [Chinese language only]

Nokia China faces lawsuit over rejection of Hepatitis-B carrier, Helsingin Sanomat, 16 Aug 2007

Asia column – China’s disease of workplace discrimination, Ethical Corporation, 4 May 2007

Chinese Job Seeker Sues Nokia, China CSR, 20 Mar 2007

Denied employment for being HBV positive, a graduate sued Nokia, sina.com, 15 Mar 2007 [Chinese language only]

HBV carrier sued Nokia for employment discrimination, asking for 500,000 RMB compensation, Lin Jie, 15 Mar 2007 [in Chinese; summary English translation available here]

Nokia China Faces Lawsuit Over Rejection of Hepatitis B Carrier, Mure Dickie, Financial Times, 12 Mar 2007

- Nokia: CR Report 2007 - Medical Evaluations, 21 May 2008

- China Labour Bulletin: Dongguan court’s dubious ruling in Nokia HBV discrimination case, 6 Nov 2008

- China Labour Bulletin: Employment discrimination at Nokia (China) must be rectified, 14 Oct 2008 [open letter from China Labour Bulletin to Jorma Ollila, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Nokia Corporation]

Beijing Yirenping Centre [Chinese non-profit public interest organization focused on disease prevention, health education, assisting patients and eliminating discrimination]