You are not allowed in our club!

26.04.2011

This week, Daniel Winter looks at an university rector who was rejected civil service status... because she used to have cancer.

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British Flag. Photo: Martin Bernetti / dapd.

Discrimination is sometimes justified. When selecting players for a football team, you need to choose the most skilled players and, unfortunately, discount the others. Their skill is relative to their ability to do their job not only correctly, but to do it well. You wouldn’t pick a chef who couldn’t cook, sign a band who couldn’t play music or hire a pilot with no experience.

However, would you not allow an experienced pilot to fly a plane because he is black?

Not sign a world-class flautist because she is Jewish? Would you deny the chance of a job to an expert chef, simply because he had bad hair? Sometimes, discrimination reveals under-the-surface flaws in the person hiring, rather than the person being discriminated against.

Photo: HTWK Leipzig.View on the Geutebrück-Bau. The building is part of the the HTWK Leipzig.Photo: HTWK Leipzig. 

Such is in the case of Renate Lieckfeldt, a permanent civil servant (‘Beamtin’ in German) in North Rhein Westphalia, who won a vote for the position of rector at the University for Technology, Economy and Culture (Hochschule für Technik, Wirtschaft und Kultur or HTWK) in Leipzig. Normally, whoever is elected rector is also automatically a civil servant, meaning a good pension, protection from being fired and a large percent of your social security payments being made by the state, amongst other benefits.

So far so good.

You win the vote, you get the job, right?

Unfortunately, the Culture Ministry vetoed her right to civil service benefits for the simple reason that Professor Lieckfeldt used to have cancer.

It seems odd that the Culture Ministry would go fishing for a controversy in this way, which makes you wonder what their real motivation for denying her the job is. Surely an experienced woman, who has battled cancer to come out even stronger, is a positive role model for the university. Not only that but, if the unfortunate thing should happen and she becomes ill during her tenure, her work would be covered by the vice rector, as is the same when any leader is unable to continue working.

The fact she is already a permanent (lifelong) appointed official in another state and the fact that this is only a five-year-long tenure seem not to matter to them. Perhaps it’s due to the fact they would have to pay for her healthcare out of the public purse – so, money is the issue. Apparently, it is legal when considering someone for the civil service in Germany to discriminate on the basis of general health.

Whilst I disagree principally on the fact that those who work for the state are awarded such unnecessary benefits, it seems extremely unfair that a woman who faced the horror of a potentially fatal illness should be punished for it in this way.

Meanwhile, Lieckfeldt can take on the job, but only as an ordinary worker, without any of the benefits bestowed on her predecessor.

So much for unity, justice and freedom in Germany.


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