Press release

Justice Initiative Hails German Court Judgment on Religious Discrimination

February 11, 2008
Brooke Havlik

AMSTERDAM—The Open Society Justice Initiative today welcomed the recent judgment from Germany's Hamburg Labor Court that a Christian organization which aids immigrants engaged in discrimination when it refused to hire a non-Christian.

The ruling, one of the first under Germany's 2006 Equal Treatment Act that implements European Union employment discrimination protections, underscores the critical role that antidiscrimination legislation plays in protecting individuals' rights to equality and freedom from religious and ethnic discrimination.

The case concerned a Christian charity, Diakonisches Werk Hamburg (DWK), which refused to hire a non-Christian for a position as an integration counselor for immigrants. While DWK acknowledged that the applicant met all substantive requirements for the position, which had no religious component, DWK required the applicant to convert to Christianity before it would consider her eligible for the position.

The applicant, a German citizen of Turkish origin, does not observe or practice any religion and refused to convert to Christianity. Under German and European Union employment law, religious institutions are allowed to discriminate based on religion only when religious faith is a genuine occupational requirement for the job. The Labor Court issued its written decision on January 31, 2008, finding that religious affiliation is not an occupational requirement for an integration counselor and that DWK's refusal to hire the applicant constituted unlawful direct religious discrimination.

"By ruling in the applicant's favor, the Hamburg Labor Court reaffirmed the right of individuals to be free from employment-related discrimination that is based upon their religious beliefs," said Maxim Ferschtman, senior legal advisor for the Justice Initiative's project on contemporary forms of discrimination in Europe. "The DWK recognized the applicant's talents and qualifications for the job but made an unlawful request that she convert to Christianity to be considered for the job. The Labor Court has correctly outlawed this sort of requirement."

The Justice Initiative supported the plaintiff's German lawyer, Sebastian Busch, and will submit a brief on the plaintiff's behalf if, as expected, DWK appeals the Hamburg Labor Court judgment.

The Justice Initiative's project on contemporary forms of discrimination in Europe promotes strategic litigation at the intersection of racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination in European Union states. Later this month German lawyers, NGOs, and community groups will seek to develop an antidiscrimination legal strategy at a meeting convened by the Justice Initiative, the German Institut für Migrations und Rassismusforschung, and the Schanzenhof law firm of Hamburg.


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