It was October 2014 and Mr. Ö. was packing steel strips with two contract workers at the Bremen metal company he had been employed at for 24 years.
For an unspecified reason Mr. Ö. took a disliking to Mr T., one of the temporary workers. According to witnesses, he approached Mr. T. from behind, put his hand between his legs and grabbed his genitals, before remarking “you’ve got big balls! Anyone else want some?”
He crunched Mr T.’s nuts so tight that he ended up going to hospital for a precautionary check-up, the metal company claims.
When the company found out about the incident, it fired Mr. Ö. without notice, claiming it was a case of sexual assault. Mr Ö. took the decision to court and the state court in Bremen sided with him, pointing out that he hadn't faced a single disciplinary hearing at the company in over two decades.
But the Federal Labour Court overruled that decision on Thursday, arguing that “sexual assault in the workplace is far more often an expression of power than something driven by lust.”
It argued that sexual assault can take place, even if there was no sexual intent behind the act.
“Sexual intent isn’t the decisive factor,” the judges concluded, explaining that touching the genitals of a coworker is always a form of sexual assault and is therefore grounds for dismissal.
Mr Ö. does still have a chance of keeping his job, though. The state court in Bremen will now reconsider the case, and will weigh up social factors – Mr Ö. Is married with three children – against the sexual assault ruling.
What could count against Mr. Ö is that old accusations of intimidation that he wasn’t punished for at the time also came up during the hearing. In 2010 he is alleged to have chained a colleague to a roll of steel and told him “tell me the time and the place – then we’ll sort this out like men.”