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German court rules against employee who sued over gender-sensitive language

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German court rules against employee who sued over gender-sensitive language
Carmakers like VW are part of the core of Germany's industry. Photo: Yann Schreiber / AFP

An employee’s lawsuit against a guideline for gender-equitable language at Audi AG has been dismissed in a final hearing.

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The Munich Higher Regional Court overturned the appeal against an earlier judgment by the Ingolstadt Regional Court.

The appeal "obviously has no chance of success", a court spokesman said about the final court decision on Monday. 

An employee of parent company Volkswagen who has to work with Audi colleagues had sued the Ingolstadt-based car manufacturer.

READ ALSO: From Fräulein to the gender star: Germany’s language revolution

He had taken offence at the fact that the Audi employees used written communication with him which underscored the word "Mitarbeiter_innen" using the Gender-Gap, as it’s referred to in German. 

The German word for employees is traditionally written as ‘Mitarbeiter’, a term for either all male employees or male and female employees. The _innen gives emphasis to the females in any plural word to which it’s added.

The VW employee sued Audi for neglect. But the judges saw no violation of the General Equality Act or other laws, and emphasised that there was no right for opponents of gender-neutral language to be "left in peace," as the defendant had claimed. 

The case had attracted nationwide attention because other companies in Germany also have a requirement to use gender-sensitive language. Sometimes an asterisk (dubbed a gender star in German) is also used in place of the underscore.

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In a press release, Audi said it was following the guidelines of the “Charta der Vielfalt” (Diversity Charter) used by other firms and, in doing so, also tried to use gender-neutral words.

For example, the masculine word “Chef” (boss) was also replaced by “Führungskraft”, a word for leader or manager that can apply to either a man or woman. 

"Appreciation, openness, responsibility and integrity are the basis of our corporate culture," wrote Sabine Maaßen, Member of the Board of Management for Human Resources and Organisation at Audi. "We also make this clear in our language." 

“Communicating in a gender-sensitive way is a question of respect and an expression of an attitude against discrimination and in favour of diversity.”

The plaintiff had been supported by an association that also rejects gendering. Such language has not just been criticised by social conservatives, but also by German language purists.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Das Gendersternchen

Vocabulary

gendering - (das) Gendern

neglect - (die) Unterlassung

violation - (der) Verstoß 

appreciation - (die) Wertschätzung

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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