Last Thursday's Supreme Court verdict in the "maternity harassment" case brought by a physical therapist in Hiroshima was the first of its kind, overturning decades of business-friendly jurisprudence along with rulings from the district and high courts.

As I mentioned in last year's September Labor Pains ("Mata-hara: turning the clock back on women's rights"), the word mata-hara is short for maternity harassment, just as seku-hara and pawa-hara refer to sexual harassment and power harassment, respectively. Maternity harassment means workplace discrimination against pregnant or childbearing women, including dismissal, contract nonrenewal and wage cuts.

When the plaintiff brought the suit against a Hiroshima hospital, she had already worked as a rehabilitation therapist for 16 years. Six years prior, she had gained the title fuku-shunin (deputy senior staff) in the hospital's rehabilitation department. In 2008, she had her second child and, while pregnant, requested less demanding work, as was her right under Article 65.3 of the Labor Standards Act. The hospital switched her from home-visit to in-hospital rehabilitation, assuming it was lighter work.