Dominguez, a worker on sick leave for over a year, was denied vacation benefits because a French statute required that a worker should work at least 10 days a year before being able to claim vacation benefits. The Working Time Directive, however, requires all employees to be entitled to 4 weeks of paid vacation.
The duty of consistent interpretation, coined in Marleasing, requires national courts of Member States to interpret national law consistently with EU law. There are of course limits to this way of remedying discrepancies between EU law and national law such as contra legem interpretation.
The Cour de cassation, one of the highest French courts, in its reference to the Court had informed the Court that it did not see any possibility of interpreting French law consistently with the Working Time Directive. The Court thought otherwise:
28 In the dispute in the main proceedings, Article L. 223-4 of the Code du travail, which provides an exemption from the requirement of actual work during the reference period in respect of certain periods of absence from work, is an integral part of the domestic law to be taken into consideration by the French courts.
29 If Article L. 223-4 of the Code du travail were to be interpreted by the national court as meaning that a period of absence due to an accident on the journey to or from work must be treated as being equivalent to a period of absence due to an accident at work in order to give full effect to Article 7 of Directive 2003/88, that court would not encounter the limitation, referred to in paragraph 26 above, as regards interpreting Article L. 223-2 of the Code du travail in accordance with European Union law.
This is interesting because the Court seems to be explaining French law to one of the highest courts in France. Cooperation between national courts and the Court has been one of the hallmarks of EU law. Work division among them, for example, means that the Court is solely responsible for invalidating EU law (Case 314/85 Fotofrost) and national courts for the invalidaty of national law (see e.g. Case C-314/08 Filipiak). The Court, in this case, is quite eager to help out the French court, but we will have to see if the Cour de cassation will agree with the Court’s views on French law.