The Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling that said the Osaka city office’s 2012 probe into whether its workers had tattoos was legal, court officials said last week.
In a decision dated Wednesday, the court’s five-member Second Petty Bench rejected an appeal from the plaintiffs after the Osaka High Court last year overturned district court decisions in favor of the two employees. The workers had refused to comply with the city’s investigation.
At issue was the city’s move in May 2012, under the leadership of then-Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, to inquire if 33,000 employees had tattoos. The city required them to reply in writing whether they had any tattoos on visible parts of the body, including the hands and neck. They were also asked to answer on a voluntary basis whether they had tattoos elsewhere.
The move came after an incident in which a city worker showed a tattoo to children at a welfare facility.
The two employees who had refused to comply with the probe had no tattoos but refused to submit the required documents, arguing that the investigation was an infringement on their right to privacy. The two were reprimanded in August that year and later brought their cases to court, seeking to have the reprimands invalidated.
In December 2014, the Osaka District Court ruled that the city’s investigation was illegal on anti-discrimination and privacy grounds and ordered that the disciplinary measure against city worker Tadasu Yasuda be invalidated.
Yasuda, a bus driver, had sued the city office after being reprimanded. He was subsequently urged by his boss to drop the suit, and was transferred to a desk job when he refused.
“Whether people have a tattoo or not falls into the category of information carrying a risk of causing discrimination, the collection of which is prohibited under a city ordinance for the protection of personal information,” the district court said in its ruling.
Yasuda filed a separate lawsuit seeking to invalidate his transfer of assignment. He won the case at two lower courts, and the city is now appealing.
In February 2015, the same district court issued a similar ruling on a lawsuit filed by Atsuko Mori, a nurse at a city-run hospital.
But later that year, the Osaka High Court reversed the earlier lower court decisions, saying the city’s check does not “cause discrimination unlike in cases in which one’s criminal record or race (is revealed).”
The city government has, since fiscal 2013, been checking for the presence of visible tattoos on potential new recruits. In the 2012 investigation, 114 workers reported they had tattoos.