MINELRES: German Employment Case Focuses on Religious and Ethnic Discrimination

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Tue Jul 22 15:17:03 2008

Original sender: Justice Initiative <info@justiceinitiative.org>

Justice Initiative
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German Employment Case Focuses on Religious and Ethnic Discrimination

Amsterdam, July 14, 2008—The Open Society Justice Initiative today
challenged religious and ethnic discrimination in a brief the
organization filed in an employment case in Hamburg, Germany. 

The case concerns a Christian charity, Diakonisches Werk Hamburg (DWK),
which refused to hire a non-Christian woman unless she converted to
Christianity. The applicant, a German citizen of Turkish ethnic origin,
does not observe or practice any religion and refused to convert. The
woman was applying for a non-religious position counseling immigrants,
as part of a secular advice service that DWK provides on behalf of the
German state. DWK acknowledges that the applicant met all substantive
requirements for the job. 

Under German and European Union antidiscrimination law, religious
institutions may treat individuals differently on the basis of religion
only when religious faith is a genuine occupational requirement for a
job, such as that of a pastor or a religious teacher. But this exception
clearly does not apply in the DWK case, the Justice Initiative asserted
in its filing. Click here to read the Justice Initiative’s brief,
available in English or German:

In 2007, the Hamburg City Labor Court held that the job applicant had
been a victim of religious discrimination. But DWK appealed the decision
and the case is currently pending before the Hamburg Regional Labor
Court. In its brief, the Justice Initiative argues that the applicant is
also a victim of indirect ethnic discrimination because DWK’s employment
requirements have a negative, disproportionate impact on the great
majority of Germans of ethnic Turkish origin. 

“The victim in this case has been discriminated against twice,” said
Robert O. Varenik, acting executive director of the Justice Initiative.
“The employer has in effect ruled out employing all non-Christians,
which includes most people of ethnic Turkish origin, even though this is
not a religious job. Under the logic of the DWK’s position, they could
require their accountants, or their cleaning crew, to convert to
Christianity. This is unlawful.” 

The case hinges on how Germany has implemented the Race and Employment
Equality Directives of the European Union. Loopholes in the German
statute enacted to implement the Race Directive, the General Equal
Treatment Act of 2006, appear to give religious organizations too much
room to pursue discriminatory employment practices, according to the
Justice Initiative. As a result, the Justice Initiative is urging the
court to refer the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in order
to clarify the very restricted circumstances under which discrimination
is justifiable.

“For the sake of ensuring consistent and effective antidiscrimination
laws across the European Union, the ECJ must clarify where the line is
to be drawn. This is not for employers to decide as they see fit,” said

The Justice Initiative's project on contemporary forms of discrimination
in Europe promotes litigation to combat racial, ethnic, and religious
discrimination in European Union states. It seeks to empower victims of
discrimination to use advanced antidiscrimination legal protections
before national, regional, and international tribunals. The project
pursues cases that address systemic problems and can generate
significant public impact beyond the courtroom.

Contact: Maxim Ferschtman: +31-20 773 3871 (Amsterdam).

The DOCUMENT is available on our website:


The Open Society Justice Initiative, an operational program of the Open
Society Institute (OSI), pursues law reform activities grounded in the
protection of human rights, and contributes to the development of legal
capacity for open societies worldwide. The Justice Initiative combines
litigation, legal advocacy, technical assistance, and the dissemination
of knowledge to secure advances in the following priority areas:
anticorruption, equality and citizenship, freedom of information and
expression, international justice and national criminal justice. Its
offices are in Abuja, Budapest, London, New York and Washington DC.

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