German court rejects claim over Audi’s gender-sensitive language

A German court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit against a directive issued by carmaker Audi that called on employees to use gender-sensitive language.

An employee of Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen, objected to Audi co-workers using such language in their communications with him and went to state court in the hometown of Audi, Ingolstadt, to challenge the directive. He alleged a violation of his personal rights.

But the court ruled that the person who filed the lawsuit had no right to demand that the guidelines not be implemented, German news agency dpa reported. Judge Christoph Hellerbrand said he was speaking only to Audi employees and the plaintiff, as a Volkswagen employee, was under no obligation to follow him.

The court also found that being the recipient of gender-sensitive language was not enough to justify a decision in favor of the Volkswagen employee. He had no right “to be left alone”, the judge said.

Some other companies have introduced similar guidelines.

The judge said the directive was only for Audi employees and the plaintiff, as a Volkswagen employee, was not required to follow it.

German nouns referring to people and their professions have different masculine and feminine forms.

The Audi directive in question was introduced last year. He called for the use of a form of German words that includes an underscore to encompass both male and female forms and is intended to show broader gender inclusion – writing “employees” as “Mitarbeiter_innen”, per example.

That and another gender-sensitive form that uses an asterisk—in which “employees” would be written as “Mitarbeiter (asterisk) innen”—annoys curators, some language experts, and others.

They prefer more traditional forms such as the “generic masculine” – using the masculine plural, “Mitarbeiter”, to refer to all genders, or in some cases, referring to the genders separately as “Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeiter”.

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