Global Freedom of Expression

The Case of FCA Italy S.p.a. v. M.D. and Others

Closed Mixed Outcome

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Non-verbal Expression
  • Date of Decision
    June 6, 2018
  • Outcome
    Reversed Lower Court
  • Case Number
    Cass. civ. sez. lav. n. 14527/2018
  • Region & Country
    Italy, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law, Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests
  • Tags

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Italian Supreme Court reversing the decision of the Court of Appeals of Naples, found that the protest of a group of workers which involved the hanging of a dummy representing the company’s CEO, did not fall within the lawful right to freedom of expression, in the form of satire. In 2014, workers at the FIAT factory in Nola held a protest, featuring a dummy of the CEO, Sergio Marchionne, hanging from a gallows. The demonstration was intended to highlight the suicides of other FIAT workers and included a fake will and mock funeral. The Judges concluded that the workers’ actions not only breached the fundamental trust between employers and employees but also provided a valid reason for termination, which contradicts the Court of Appeal’s decision.


On June 5, 2014, a group of workers from FCA Italy S.p.a. (FIAT) held a protest outside the Nola factory. During the demonstration, they displayed a dummy dressed as FIAT’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne, with his face attached to the body. The dummy was hung with a rope on a gallows to symbolize the suicides of other FIAT workers. The protesters also presented a fake will of Marchionne that attributed the workers’ deaths to him and held a mock funeral.

The Court of First Instance of Nola considered that the workers had been lawfully terminated. However, on September 27, 2016, the Court of Appeals of Naples reversed the decision. The Judges found that the workers had not acted to the “moral or material detriment” of the company. Instead, their actions fell within the right to freedom of expression in the form of the right to critique the employees. In the Court’s opinion, first, the actions adhered to the criterion of subjective truth in that one of the workers who had committed suicide had left a letter that explained that her choice depended on the conditions under which she worked. Second, according to the Court, the employees’ action was not excessively violent nor disproportioned in light of the tragic events that gave origin to their protest.

FCA Italy S.p.a. appealed the decision before the Supreme Court. The company contested the interpretation of the Court as regards both the unlawfulness of the termination of the workers and the framing of the protest as a lawful exercise of the right to critique and satire.

Decision Overview

The Court had to determine whether hanging an effigy of FIAT’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne, during a protest should be protected under the right to satire and freedom of expression.

The Supreme Court observed that although the right to critique, when manifested in the form of the right to satire, allows for strong language and even excessive images, this does not entail the proper escape of any legal limit (this does not imply exceeding any legal boundaries).This is because satire always involves two colliding interests: namely, the interest of the person who is exercising their right to freedom of expression (protected under Article 21 of the Italian Constitution) and the interest in the human dignity of the individual targeted (protected under Article 2 of the Constitution). It is thus necessary to strike the right balance between the two conflicting interests. Hence, satire shall not consist of unjustified contempt and disdain towards the person targeted.

In light of this, the Judges observed that a close consideration of all the elements of the “theatrical performance” of the employees (i.e., the gallows, the hanging dummy with the picture of Sergio Marchionne, the fake will, and the workers’ coveralls covered in red paint indicating blood) resulted in the attribution to the CEO of “reprehensible and morally dishonorable personal qualities, which exposed the addressee to public ridicule (…) in such a way as to arouse indignation, disdain as well as derision and mockery and thus exceeding the limit of the protection of human dignity provided for by Article 2 of the Constitution“. According to the Supreme Court, therefore, the protest exceeded the limits of democratic civil coexistence. The argument between workers and employers, led to a heated and aggressive exchange, in which the opinions of the counterparty were not truly considered or valued.

Further, the Judges ruled that not only did the workers’ behavior break the trust underlying every employee-employer relationship, but it also constituted a just cause for termination, contrary to the Court of Appeal’s evaluation. Although workers hold a constitutional right to critique the employer’s decisions (Articles 21 and 39 of the Italian Constitution), the critique shall not overcome the limits of protecting the employer’s human dignity. In the case at hand, as observed above, the Court considered the limits to have been overstepped.

The Supreme Court differs from the Court of Appeal’s interpretation. As a result, on June 6, 2018, the Judges reversed the Court of Appeal’s ruling.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Mixed Outcome

The ruling establishes boundaries to the right of satire of the employee by clarifying that critique and satire are lawfully exercised only when the right to the human dignity of the addressee is not violated.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Lower courts shall conform to the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the boundaries of the right to the satire of the employee.


Official Case Documents


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