Employees defend themselves against gendering at Audi: Judgment could have far-reaching consequences

The dispute over the guidelines for gender-appropriate language at Audi AG will deal with a civil chamber of the Ingolstadt district court on Tuesday (June 14). An employee of the parent company VW, who has to work with Audi colleagues, had sued Audi after the company did not want to issue a cease-and-desist declaration. He sees his general personal rights violated by the gender guidelines.

Last year, the carmaker issued a company policy on gender-sensitive language. The plaintiff is bothered by the fact that gender forms such as the underscore (“employees”) are to be used in communication with him.

“A question that touches society”

As a spokesman for the court explained, the judge will first try to reach an amicable agreement between the parties. If this does not succeed, the main hearing will then begin immediately.

In March 2021, Audi introduced guidelines for gender-sensitive language “to improve the visibility of gender diversity”. It is about how the employees should communicate in writing in a gender-sensitive manner. Audi proposes either neutral formulations (“manager” instead of “boss”) or the so-called gender gap, with which the male and female forms are connected with an underscore – this is how the previous “Audians” become “Audians”.

The plaintiff’s two lawyers also regard the proceedings as a kind of test case. “This is a question that affects society,” said lawyer Dirk Giesen.

Ideology or necessity on the way to fair work?

The lawsuit is supported by the German Language Association, which generally rejects gender and speaks of an “ideology”. “Under the guise of equality, language is being sacrificed through gendering,” the association complains. Other language maintenance organizations are less clear, but like the Society for German Language, they sometimes point out that the grammatical rules should still be observed when gendering.

Audi itself does not want to make any concrete statement on the content of the ongoing legal proceedings. Apart from that, however, the company wants to maintain an organizational culture that is characterized by mutual respect and appreciation, said Audi spokesman Wolfgang Schmid. “The use of gender-sensitive language means communication that values ​​and takes into account all genders and gender identities.”

It is not yet clear when there will be a verdict in the case. The further progress should depend on the result of the first day of the trial. Civil proceedings often take much longer than criminal proceedings and can be protracted.

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