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Woman sues over 'Ossi' discrimination

DDP/DPA/The Local · 11 Apr 2010, 09:29

Published: 11 Apr 2010 09:29 GMT+02:00

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A bookkeeper identified in German media as Gabriela S. told news magazine Der Spiegel she was ready to take her legal fight as far as needed to stop what her lawyers are calling discrimination due to ethnic background.

Born in the former East Germany, Gabriela S. applied unsuccessfully for a job with a window manufacturer in the southwestern city of Stuttgart. When her application materials were returned to her, she found someone from the company had written the word "Ossi" preceded by a minus sign on her resumé.

"Ossi" is an term for eastern Germans that is often derogatory.

She is suing the company for discrimination based on ethnic origin. If she wins, the firm could be forced to pay her €4,800, or the equivalent of three months' salary.

"They'll only feel it if they have to pay," she told Der Spiegel.

A labor court in Stuttgart must now decide if "Ossi" is an ethnicity. A decision is expected on Thursday.

The word "Ossi" is considered by many Germans from the former GDR to be pejorative, used by some from western Germany as an insult. The related "Wessi," referring to westerners, is also used by some from the east as an epithet.

Story continues below…

"I just want all this Ossi-Wessi stuff to stop," Gabriela S. said.

DDP/DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

11:28 April 11, 2010 by mobiusro
Very good. I hope she wins and that idiot from HR that did this gets sacked.

I wonder how many job applications are rejected by the idiotic HR employees just because they just don't like your face.
12:30 April 11, 2010 by Jibzy
or skin color ..or religion...or race
13:19 April 11, 2010 by biker hotel harz
............ or perhaps she just wan't good enough for the job?
13:46 April 11, 2010 by Kayak
... yeah, she was definitely not suitable for the job because she clearly shows too much assertiveness as evident from her taking the slur to court. What employer would ever need a independent and strong willed worker...? Sad company, perhaps...?
14:24 April 11, 2010 by Joshontour
I, too, find the application requirements in Germany sometimes unbelievable. To think that a "free and democratic" nation would allow employers to require applicants to attach a picture, state their nationality, religion, or any other possibly discriminatory requirement is beyond reason.
17:58 April 11, 2010 by michael4096
The laws in germany regarding discrimination are the strongest I've come across anywhere. For example, it's the only place I've ever seen (as a business consultant, I've seen most of europe and the us) that requires businesses to prove that their employees are aware of the law and their responsibilities within it.

I once saw a cv with notes from a previous reviewer. It had "- long hair" written on top. Knowing the interviewer, I could translate this to mean that hair length was his trick to reassociate cv's to people and the negative was his scoring against a set of 3 'musts' determined for that job - failed on one, passed on two. Nothing sinister. These comments may be just as innocent.

And, why on earth should a government stop being free and democratic because it allows employers to ask for photos on a cv? It allows for age and sex questions also even though it is not allowed for employers to discriminate because of either.
18:51 April 11, 2010 by DoubleDTown
"Ossi" is *not* quite like "nigger", but could it be compared in the sense that it's okay for an Ossi to use the term but not okay for others to do so?
19:46 April 11, 2010 by kid_a
Doubletown, I believe so. There is nothing wrong with the word self unless it is negatively used, in this case obiously by the minus sign behind it on the CV. I also use it in a friendly way towards colleagues and friends and never got complains.
20:45 April 11, 2010 by wood artist
Words used amongst friends often have different meanings when used by others. A term of friendship or endearment can easily become a significant insult when used by someone else. Sad...but nevertheless true.

I do find it odd that Germany allows pictures and other information to be required on an application when it cannot be used as an employment criteria. It's obvious that a picture could easily sway the way a resume is seen. "Hmmm. She's pretty hot. Can I overlook her missing qualifications?"

Although I have no personal knowledge about it, I suspect it will be sometime before the old Ossi-Wessi thing will die. There's too much history there to expect it to simply disappear quickly.

22:56 April 11, 2010 by nashville
Ossi - (dash, not minus). Probably a way to remember which one she was. I am certain there were more than 5 applicants what with unemployment being what it is. I interviewed people for a living, and it is nigh impossible to remember which one is who and what kind of impression they made unless you give yourself a note to jog the memory. HR people have it drummed into their heads NEVER to write anything that could be illegal anywhere! Probably her accent was the significant thing that identified her and nothing more. I'd be in somewhat of a snit if someone labled me "redneck," but if it said "southeren" on my material, I wouldn't bat an eye.
01:06 April 12, 2010 by Prufrock2010
So much for "reunification."
10:39 April 12, 2010 by moistvelvet
I agree "- Ossi" is dash not minus and it could quite easilt just have been a note to which applicant this was. I don't see the benefit of taking this firm to court, she is obviously advertising to many would be employers that Gabriela S would be a troublesome employee and could take legal action at a drop of a hat. Would she also take action against "The Local" over this article, I mean after the first paragraph where it mentions East Germany and "Ossi" there are links to articles about RAF terrorist groups, Hartz IV leeches and illegal arms dealers, would this also be seen by her as a negative and derogative action by "The local"?
11:11 April 12, 2010 by MJTinNOLA

You are crazy and completely wrong if you are under the mistaken impression Germany has strong ant-discrimination laws. They are some of the worst in the civilized world. If you do not believe me, ask any immigrant who lives here, who does not "look German," and see what they say about getting a job and being fairly treated. Also you might like to please tell me the German law that gives foreigners equal protection under the law. The US Consulate in Frankfurt cannot find one. The matter came up a few months ago when it was revealed that my university, the University of Kassel, has a policy not to give housing to foreign students, except with a six-month, pay up-front, non-renewable contract,unlike the 10 semester contract given to Germans. The best we could hope for was to find some immigration rights group to take our case which they would not do because of lack of legal standing. How is that for being so progressive and anti-discriminatory? I myself am suing the DAAD for $1.1 million in US court because they refused me a scholarshio only because of age (I am 40). I have it in writing from the Director of DAAD NY that my age was the only reason I did not get the scholarship (I had the highest GPA and best recommendations of all applicants according to him). There was no age limit on this scholarship, so that is not the reason I did not get it. Is that your idea of equal protection? Germany ought to be ashamed of itself considering its questionable past.

I also lived in Cottbus for a while, and I saw and heard the blatant discrimination against people from the East many, many, many times. I suffered it myself when I told people I was from Cottbus. So do not tell me about German fairness. They cannot even be fair to their own people.
16:22 April 12, 2010 by Beachrider
The 'west' Germans need to work out their anxieties about 'east' Germans. Reunification of Germany was one of the milestones of the last century of Western Civilization. Hundreds of thousands dedicated their lives so that it could happen. It is NOT to be taken lightly by anyone.

That being said, it isn't easy in everyday life. In employment situations, the focus needs to be on the company's immediate needs. Increasing diversity can neither be legislated or shunned. If this candidate's lead problem was that she was an 'east' German, then the HR person let personal bias get into their work.

The HR person needs to go. This candidate could have had more-relevant problems in being considered, but the HR person totally made it about personal-bias. The candidate doesn't automatically get the job, but there needs to be a new opening where the HR person was once employed.
22:16 April 12, 2010 by wxman
A devil's advocate approach: Should a private company have the right to hire or not hire whomever they choose? If they truly are passing up quality employees by discriminating, they will soon go out of business, right?
22:20 April 12, 2010 by michael4096

Sorry to hear about your experiences but they are different to mine..

- I do talk to immigrants. Most of the people I work with are immigrants and some even have horror stories. However, those with experiences of germany and of other countries remain here

- the laws you are looking for are called AGG - I'm sure the clever consulate people can work out the german. It covers all employment and workplace discrimination issues and explicitly forbids age discrimination. However, there is one exception and one caveat. The exception is that if the nature of the job requires a specific age range - for example, a manual labourer can be rejected over a certain age regardless of their skills. The caveat is: does your scholarship class as employment?


Regarding your negerkuss story.. such things are clearly illegal under the AGG and the employers are responsible for ensuring it doesn't happen. If a person feels uncomfortable about anything like that they should have a clear route within that workplace to get it sorted. If (and when) that doesn't happen they can leave and file for compensation - but talk to a layer first. This will cause a load of trouble to come tumbling on the employer's heads

Generally, I find all this germany bashing really depressing. Obviously, it is not a perfect place, nowhere is, but unlike most places it does try hard. And, the fact that these stories hit the main news is telling - would it be news in your country of origin?
23:12 April 12, 2010 by Dizz
Micheal4096 I laud your sentiment but I disagree. Germany does NOT try hard. They all just talk a lot about how tolerant they are, get all bloody holier-than-thou about it as they hand medals around to each other (as though its a marvelous achievement just to treat people as people) and then they turn around and shoot the down the next person to walk by for having strange clothes or a funny accent or whatever else. Literally shoot down in some cases like in Dresden a few months ago. Remember the pregnant Egyptian lady who was stabbed 18 times in a court room full of witnesses and when her husband was the only one to defend her the court security guard shot him and not the actual attacker who was white? Institutionally its even worse. Don't get me started about profiling in airports and at borders or even on the street. Or going to any of the -amts for any kind of paper or permit.
00:41 April 13, 2010 by TomUSA
The wall has been down for 20 years now, it is time for Germans to get over the east-west syndrome and start working together. That also including trying to move,or build businesses in the eastern sections to help their economy.
00:48 April 13, 2010 by RobCon
Ossi....Wessi ....I would hate to hear what they call someone from Prussia.
01:14 April 13, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Commie or Nazi. Take your pick.
10:40 April 13, 2010 by michael4096
@Dizz - I will always defend your right to disagree

I doubt if anyone can speak for germany as a whole, we all have our own personal experiences, and I'm sure that there are many, many cases of real discrimination in germany in public and private areas. However, I have seen much more discrimination in other countries I lived such as the us, uk, france and switzerland than I have ever seen in germany. I work with about 200 others, maybe one in three are immigrants; in over six years, none have ever complained of discrimination in any amt or at work.

I do remember the egyptian lady and the case about the prison visitor yesterday. They were very similar - complete nuts taking everybody by surprise - of course, the fact that the first lady was egyption *proves* that case was ratial hate in germany even though the nut wasn't even german. Come on, Dizz, make sense!

Normally, I don't go on at length about things, but I know many readers of this forum do not live here and form impressions from reading the forum. And, the impressions given by most posters are simply wrong.
11:47 April 13, 2010 by Dizz
Michael - nice quote from Voltaire! Here's a fave by Jefferson: "If you don't disagree with me, how will I know that I'm right?" :)

Coming back to our discussion (and thank you for keeping it a discussion and not a slanging match), my point about the Dresden incident was not about the crazy attack. That's just freak bad luck. My point was about the policeman shooting the husband instead of the attacker. He was under pressure, everything was happening fast, and when he acted it was pure instinct. Quite possibly if anyone had asked him the day before if he was racist he'd have denied it. Hence my point of talking the good talk but not walking the walk. And if you want to look at the institutional problem, consider how that story did not make the news, no one wanted to deal with or talk about it, and while the murderer did face trial, we don't know if the officer had to face any consequences or even re-training and counseling.

In one of your earlier comments you started with the line; "I do talk to immigrants." Stop for a minute and consider how that sounds. And no, I am not calling you a racist. Most of us foreigners get over it after a while when we realise that Germans who are insensitive are not intentionally or maliciously so. I will also say this, I've also lived all over Europe, longest in the UK and France. I would say the Germans are the friendliest and make the most effort to help you feel comfortable. But England is hands down the least xenophobic. Of course there are deeply racist individuals but the systems, laws and mechanism are on the whole equitable.
23:51 April 13, 2010 by berlinski
Maybe the guy's name who wrote it is Ossi and he was only signing it. Just a thought!
02:28 April 14, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Ethnic discrimination my ass. The woman is German! Apparently Germany is becoming as litigious as America. Not a good trend....
17:01 April 14, 2010 by Joerg II
When my mother and I came to the US in 1954, we traveled by ship. There were a number of black American GI's on the same ship. The Germans referred to them as "Neger", which upset them. The GI's understood that it just meant Negro in German but was too close to the American "nigger" for their comfort. They asked my mother, who had worked for the Americans and who could speak the best English, to ask the German passengers to use another word, so the Germans used "Schwarze" instead. Problem solved. For African-Americans this is still a very loaded term. I hope Ossi/Wessi does not get to that point.
12:26 April 15, 2010 by Edmond Schindler
Give me a break - someone wrote the word -OSSI on the papers?

And EVERYONE believes it was a person at the company because she said so?

I don't believe her. I think she wrote it herself.

There is no way to prove it either way. It's not enough to do anything to anyone.

She is left with the burden of proof. Unless there is irrefutable evidence that it was on her papers when she received them, we has nothing but her word - which I doubt.
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