The Supreme Court of Norway (Høyesterett) ruled on Tuesday that Rear Admiral Louise Kathrine Dedichen was not appointed as head of the Norwegian Defense University College (Høgskolene i Forsvaret) because she was a woman. Dedichen’s appointment was challenged by the man she beat for the role, Brigadier Øyvind Kirsebom Strandman, on the grounds the state had breached equality laws.
Dedichen was appointed to the role in 2008 and was at the same time promoted to rear admiral status, making her the first woman with military ranking at the general level, reported newspaper Aftenposten. She was one of two female applicants considered for the role.
Strandman, also in contention, argued Dedichen was appointed because she was a woman. With the Officers’ Union (Befalets fellesorganisasjon), Strandman challenged the appointment and was successful at the equality tribunal (likestillingsnemnda). The state won in the district court (Oslo tingrett) then Strandman won in the court of appeal (lagmannsretten), but the state was ultimately successful with four votes to one in the Supreme Court.
“I am insanely happy,” Dedichen said, after the court ruled she was the most qualified applicant. “This is also a very important signal to all young girls that it is possible to make a career in Defense as a woman. For the selection of any job you must look for the person who is best suited to do that exact job. We don’t have such career patterns in Defense. Even in such a big organization as this you must be able to treat each case separately.”
While the majority ruled crucial weight was not put on Dedichen’s gender, neither was it completely irrelevant. Justice Toril Marie Øie wrote in her judgment that those making the appointment saw it as very positive that Dedichen was a woman, but it wasn’t the only factor.
“When you consider all the circumstances together and in light of my conclusion that it was objective and reasonable to to regard Dedichen as the most qualified applicant for the position, I have nevertheless concluded that the argument that she was a woman was only an additional argument, an not essential for the appointment,” Øie wrote. “The appointment has not then breached equality laws.”
In the minority, Justice Jens Edvin A Skoghøy believed the state had not substantiated that Dedichen was better or as equally well qualified as Strandman.