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France’s Catholic school 'cougar' hails victory

Dan MacGuill · 30 Oct 2013, 11:43

Published: 30 Oct 2013 11:43 GMT+01:00

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Who’s Veronique Bonazzola?

She’s a 50-year-old former Catholic school assistant in the south of France, and a part-time actor.

Why is she in the news this week?

On Tuesday her lawyer announced she’d won a possible landmark case against her former employer, Collège Notre Dame de la Tramontane, who fired her after she appeared as an under-dressed and over-sexed ‘cougar’ in a rap video (see below).

Tell me more

The whole affair broke in the spring of 2012, when a group of shocked parents show management at the Riviera school a music video called “Fontaine de Jouvence" (Fountain of Youth) by the rapper Novia.

They weren’t concerned about the loose implementation of grammar rules in it, but rather that, among the gyrating and scantily-clad women was none other than Veronique Bonazzola – a 50-year-old classroom supervisor who had been working at the school for years.

In the video, Bonazzola pursues, and is pursued by, the younger rapper, and despite being occasionally distracted by some sporadic hip-grinding with other members of his harem, the raven-haired older lady gets very friendly with 27-year-old Novia.

In the end, the two celebrate their blossoming union by pouring champagne down her chest in a Jacuzzi.

Now while women in bikinis fawning over macho frontmen and engaging in a spot of unconvincing pseudo-lesbian dancing is a time-honoured hip-hop tradition, it is not, unsurprisingly, in keeping with the ethos of a Catholic school.

In the words of Claude Backès, director-general of the Catholic secondary school Bonazzola’s star role was “incompatible with the nature of this person’s work and the rules of the institution”. 

Although Bonazzola had appeared in the video in her capacity as a part-time actor, Notre Dame de la Tramontane terminated her employment.

Bonazzola, playing the 'sugar mama' in the video for Novia's "Fountain of Youth."

A 'burning at the stake' after '20 years of good and loyal service'

At the time, her lawyer Pierre Chami reflected Bonazzola’s feelings of hurt and rejection.

“She doesn’t understand why, after 20 years of good and loyal service, she’s being thrown out like some unsavoury character for a video that’s shorter than five minutes,” he said.

This week Bonazzola herself said: “When the whole affair broke, I got the impression that [the school’s management] were going to burn me at the stake in the school yard.”

“They found it scandalous, but most of the parents and students supported me,” she added.

Bonazzola however,didn’t take her firing lying down, and sued her school for wrongful termination of her job.

A 'wonderful victory against injustice'

A court in nearby Grasse, whose verdict was rendered in August but confirmed by Chami on Tuesday, eventually ruled in her favour, and criticized the school for not making clear to Bonazzola how her spare-time activities might impinge on her day job.

Although Notre Dame de la Tramontane knew about her work as an actor, the school “never gave her the slightest warning about any possible threat that such activities might pose to her professional obligations,” the court said.

In the end, the tribunal ruled she was sacked "without any real or serious cause."

The case could prove significant in France as a ruling on what role an individual’s personal lifestyle, beliefs and activities could have in whether they’re fit to work at with particular organization.

Bonazzola, who is still unemployed according to Europe 1 radio celebrated the verdict in a post on her Facebook page, calling it "a wonderful victory against injustice."

“The courts have recognized everyone’s right to do as they please with their free time, and condemned abusive firings,” she said.

“A massive big-up to my lawyer Mr. Chami and everyone who showed their support. An even larger big-up to everyone who talked crap [about me]!”

The school has decided not to appeal the decision.

Here is the now-infamous video itself. Bonazzola has dark hair and wears large hoop earrings throughout much of it.

Do you think her performance here was "incompatible" with her functions as a classroom supervisor in a Catholic school? Share your view in the comments section below.

The Local's French Face of the Week is a person in the news who - for good or ill - has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as French Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

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