Korean worker who sued Tokyo govt retires

Public health nurse Chong Hyang Gyun was all smiles when she retired from the Tokyo metropolitan government recently, even though it had refused to let her seek promotion because of her South Korean nationality.

A second-generation Korean resident of this country, Chong sued the metropolitan government in 1994, demanding she be allowed to take a promotion exam for a managerial post. The trial went on for 10 years of Chong’s 22-year career with the metropolitan government.

Ultimately, Chong was not able to be promoted because the Supreme Court overturned her victory in a lower court. Upon her retirement, however, she smiled and said, “I have no regrets.”

Chong officially retired Wednesday, as she had reached her mandatory retirement age of 60.

Chong was born in Iwate Prefecture. In 1988, she was hired as the first non-Japanese public health nurse to work for the metropolitan government.

Her application to take the internal exam to become a manager was refused, however, because of the metropolitan government’s “nationality clause,” which prohibits the appointment of non-Japanese employees to managerial posts.

The Tokyo District Court decided against her in 1996, ruling that the metropolitan government’s action was constitutional.

In 1997, the Tokyo High Court ruled that the metropolitan government’s decision violated the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom to choose one’s occupation, and ordered the Tokyo government to pay compensation to Chong.

The metropolitan government appealed this decision and in 2005, the Supreme Court nullified the high court ruling and rejected Chong’s demand.

After Chong openly expressed her disappointment at a press conference about the Supreme Court ruling, she received critical e-mails and other messages. Chong also said she sometimes felt it was hard to stay in her workplace.

However, a sizable number of her colleagues and area residents understood her feelings.

“I was supported by many people. I enjoyed my job,” Chong said.

For two years from 2006, Chong worked on Miyakejima island, helping residents deal with difficulties resulting from their prolonged evacuation.

Just before her retirement, Chong visited health care centers in Tokyo and other related facilities as chief of a section for preventing infectious diseases and caring for mentally handicapped people.

She was rehired from April as a nonregular employee at her workplace’s request, but she will work fewer days.

“I’ve been tense ever since filing the lawsuit, trying not to make any mistakes in other areas. Now I can finally relax,” Chong said.

Chong recently has been interested in supporting Indonesian nurse candidates in Japan. During the New Year holidays, she held a gathering to introduce them to Japanese culture.

“Now that a greater number of foreigners are in Japan, society as a whole should think about how to assimilate them,” Chong said.

She said she believed her lawsuit has helped raise those kind of questions.