Can East German Be An Ethnic Origin?

Author:Mr Alexander Steven (Kliemt.HR Lawyers)
Profession:Ius Laboris

The Berlin Labour Court has held that an employee who was bullied on the grounds of his East German origin had not suffered discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin.

Even 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the German population is still dealing with similarities and differences between East and West Germany in many different social, political and legal areas. Discussions in this context are frequently influenced by persistent resentment and prejudice. The topic of 'equal treatment' plays a central role in this. This can also affect the workplace. In this context, a recent decision of the Berlin Labour Court (ruling of 15 August 2019 - 44 Ca 8580/18) raises the question of the extent to which claims for damages can arise if resentment and prejudices between colleagues are unleashed and discrimination against East German employees is imminent.

The Labour Court ruling

The plaintiff had been employed as deputy head of department of the defendant newspaper publisher since 2011 and had concluded a contract for partial retirement with his employer in 2017, according to which the employment relationship was to end prematurely on 31 October 2021. The plaintiff then sued his employer for compensation, damages, inter alia for pain and suffering, as he had been stigmatised and humiliated by two senior employees because of his East German origin.

There had been verbal humiliation, connecting the plaintiff to, among other things, the state security, the socialist and repressive political system of the GDR, living habits and the behaviour of citizens of the former GDR. Furthermore, he had been described as a 'stupid Ossi' at editorial meetings. The plaintiff had been in psychotherapeutic treatment for several years because of these incidents. He had also only signed the contract for part-time work for older employees because of his mental illness and the existential fears associated with it. Concluding this agreement and the associated early termination of his working life had caused him damages in the amount of EUR 600,000 in total. In addition, the non-material damage resulting from the discrimination amounted to at least EUR 200,000. The question was thus whether bullying an employee because of his East German origin constituted a disadvantage within the meaning of s1 of the Equal Treatment Act (AGG) and whether the plaintiff could assert claims for damages accordingly. In addition, the court examined whether a claim for damages based on...

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