Is the gender asterisk discriminatory?!

 Federal Labor Court ruled that use of the gender asterisk in German job advertisements is not discriminatory.

Is the gender asterisk discriminatory?!

The gender asterisk in job advertisements expresses that an employer is explicitly addressing all persons with the job advertisement – regardless of gender and orientation. Consequently, the Federal Labor Court (BAG) did not regard the use of the gender asterisk in a job advertisement as discriminating against a bigender person (BAG, decision dated November 23, 2023, Ref: 8 AZR 164/22).

What does the gender asterisk stand for?

The gender asterisk is a divisive issue. Whether people regard it as an ugly linguistic device or the only linguistic means of including all genders and orientations comes down to a matter of personal perspective.

Objectively speaking, the gender asterisk is currently the recognized means of addressing gender diversity in written texts and of comprehensively inclusive writing.

Therefore, using this asterisk in a job advertisement, for example, clearly expresses the company’s intention to fill the advertised position in a completely non-discriminatory manner.

Complaint by an intersex person due to discrimination by the gender asterisk

A city in Hesse intended to fill a vacancy and published a job advertisement looking for “Fallmanager*innen im Aufenthaltsrecht” (case managers in residence law).

A severely disabled person who describes themself as a hermaphrodite applied for this position and explicitly stated this. They were invited to an interview which the applicant was forced to cancel due to a scheduling conflict. The city was unable to comply with their request for an alternative appointment as it needed occupy the vacancy as quickly as possible.

In response, the person sued the city claiming discrimination on the basis of their gender and demanded compensation in accordance with Section 15 (2) of the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG). Proof of their point of view was that the gender asterisk allegedly excludes people of two genders.

Ruling by the Federal Labor Court that gender asterisks are not discriminatory

As with the Labor Court and the State Labor Court in previous instances, the Federal Labor Court did not identify any discrimination.

Specifically, spelling using a gender asterisk is an especially inclusive spelling which addresses all genders and gender identities and, therefore, also hermaphrodites. The gender asterisk does not represent a “third gender” to fill the gap between the male and female genders. Moreover, the gender asterisk does not deny the existence of bigender people, as was claimed.

Rather, the conventional usage of the gender asterisk symbolizes all genders. The Schleswig-Holstein State Labor Court already expressed this opinion (see decision dated June 22, 2021, Ref: 3 Sa 37 öD/21).

The court expressly stated that

“The irrelevance of gender, made clear by the gender asterisk, would also include … hermaphrodites who have ‘no gender identity at all’. The origin of the gender asterisk and whether it is recognized by all linguistic authorities is irrelevant.”

It is “… decisive that common usage addresses not only persons of specific genders”.

What does this ruling mean for employers?

The ruling by the Federal Labor Court is absolutely logical and will not change individual practice when publishing job advertisements: Anyone who wants to can use the gender asterisk without fear of legal action from potential applicants due to discrimination.

What can we do for you?

Do you have questions regarding the non-discriminatory design of job advertisements? Do not hesitate to contact us!

Summary of the key facts:

  • Employers may not discriminate against people on the basis of their gender or gender identity when filling a position. Otherwise they face the risk of claims for compensation.
  • Using a gender asterisk in a job advertisement does not constitute gender discrimination pursuant to the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG).
    The Federal Labor Court has expressly stated that the gender asterisk is non-discriminatory with regard to gender and gender identity.