Gender equality still has a long way to go. You can see that in a case involving the German car manufacturer Volkswagen. A lawsuit filed by Audi, a subsidiary of Volkswagen, is stirring up the social media. Their gender dispute has reached the courts because Audi has been using gender-sensitive language since March of this year. The intention was to make gender diversity in the group more visible. However, one employee felt discriminated against and filed a complaint.
The dispute had been simmering for months but has now escalated. First, the employee had a cease-and-desist letter sent out against the gender guidelines. That was the trigger for the dispute, but Audi left this statement unanswered. The employee, therefore, filed a lawsuit. The lawyers publicly stated that, in their view, a corporation cannot dictate the specific form of language to its employees. Thus, the personal right of the client was affected. The lawyers are hoping for a new law which would state whether a company may control the language its employees use. There has not yet been such a law project in Germany. Thus, the lawsuit enters an entirely new legal territory.
The client feels that the gendered language is bullying him. The plaintiff is a long-time employee of the group and he is an active member of several committees that also affect other employees. They were, therefore, directly affected by the company policy that is discriminatory. In their opinion, the policies have achieved the exact opposite of their purpose. The Board of Management sees things differently and emphasized that communicating in a gender-sensitive manner is a matter of respect and an expression of attitude against discrimination and favouring diversity.
Two Ways of Writing
Included in the guidelines are two ways to communicate in writing. These include neutral phrases such as employees instead of co-workers or managers instead of bosses. Alternatively, employees could also use the so called gender gaps. The German Language Association, on the other hand, considers Audi to be arrogant. It sees no legal basis for imposing such language. The procedure reminds strongly of systems of injustice such as those in the GDR or dystopias as presented in 1984 by George Orwell. Here, people are trying to sacrifice language under the guise of equal rights. Audi has now responded to the complaint and expects a verdict in a year at earliest. The company does not wish to comment publicly on this matter at the moment, as the statement of claim is not yet available.
This dispute that has now also ended up in court has naturally led to heated discussions in social media, however, the reactions to it are rather adverse. This situation fits in with a trend in France that has led to banning written gender-neutral characters in schools. The reason given by the authorities was that this writing would not comply with the rules in the curricula. At the same time, however, teachers are required to support gender equality by using the usual spelling rules.