Audi requires its employees to use specific gender forms in written communication. A VW employee did not want to accept that he received such emails and went to court.
The district court of Ingolstadt has dismissed a lawsuit against a guideline for gender-fair language at Audi AG. An employee of the parent company VW, who has to work with Audi colleagues, had sued the Ingolstadt car manufacturer.
He was bothered by the fact that Audi employees used gender forms with an underscore (“employees”) when communicating with him about the guidelines – the so-called gender gap.
As the civil division ruled, the plaintiff has no right to injunctive relief. The presiding judge Christoph Hellerbrand emphasized that the VW employee is not obliged to actively use the guide because it is only aimed at Audi employees. Even the fact that the plaintiff was passively affected was not enough for the court. There is no right for him “to be left alone,” said Hellerbrand.
The process attracted nationwide attention because there are also guidelines for the use of gender-sensitive language in other companies. The plaintiff announced that he now wants to review the verdict with his lawyers. “I explicitly do not rule out that there are further steps,” he said of possible legal remedies. If he appeals, the Munich Higher Regional Court would have to deal with the case again.
However, the plaintiff also said that regardless of the legal process, he would like there to be a discussion about the correct gender forms. He rejects the gender specifications used at Audi because they lead to new injustice. “That can’t be the last word.” He also emphasized that gender language must also be readable.
The car manufacturer issued the company guidelines on gender language last year. Alluding to a well-known Audi advertising slogan, the guideline is “Vorsprung begins in the head”. The company justified the language requirements in March 2021 by saying that this is a sign of equality and better reflects gender diversity. “From now on, Audi would like to make gender-sensitive formulations ubiquitous in internal and external written Audi communication,” it said.
At the oral hearing in June, an amicable agreement between the parties failed. The lawyers for Audi AG refused to remove the gender forms from all emails to the VW process manager and the accompanying attachments. They said this was impractical.
Ultimately, the court saw neither a violation of the General Equal Opportunities Act nor a violation of the plaintiff’s general personality rights. The judges examined this under the aspects of gender identity and linguistic integrity.
The lawsuit against Audi was supported by the German Language Association, which generally rejects gender and speaks of an “ideology”. The association is controversial among experts. A group of 36 German and linguistics professors had already questioned the theses of the association and its scientific understanding in an open letter in 2016. Other language maintenance organizations advocate gender-equitable language, but appeal to compliance with grammatical rules.
The Society for the German Language sees double naming (“employees”) as positive, while the underscore in the word or the gender asterisk (“employees”) is problematic. The plaintiff in the Audi case also emphasized that he was not against gendering if the rules of grammar were not violated.