Germany's top labor court has ruled that a doctor was wrongfully dismissed by a Catholic clinic for remarrying. The decision could have major implications for church-run employers and the rights they enjoy in Germany.
Germany's Federal Labor Court (Bundesarbeitsgericht) ruled on Wednesday that a Catholic clinic acted unlawfully when it sacked a doctor after he divorced his wife and remarried.
The church argued he had violated church teachings, but the doctor said he was being discriminated against because he was Catholic, saying that his colleagues of different beliefs could have remarried without issue.
Church-run institutions are afforded a special constitutional status in Germany, where they employ about 1.4 million people. The court's decision — the culmination of a decade-long legal dispute — could impact the moral standards the church can hold its workforce to in the future.
The case so far:
Special constitutional status: Churches in Germany have a certain degree of autonomy and can use their own rules for hiring and firing according to principles enshrined in the country's Basic Law, or constitution. That means they have the right to sack some staff who breach certain religious laws. The secular courts are not allowed to decide whether or not Catholic Church principles are legitimate, only if they are applied fairly and consistently.The task of Germany's highest labor disputes court was to weigh the conflict between the right of churches to decide independently who they employ, and European laws against discrimination on grounds of religious affiliation.
Significant employer: Churches are huge employers in Germany, particularly in the healthcare sector. Catholic charity Caritas and Diakonie, run by the Protestant church, employ more than a million people between them. In recent years Catholic dioceses have begun taking on staff with different or no faiths, resulting in Catholic employees being held to significantly different moral standards than others.
nm/msh (AFP, dpa)