• Checklist

How should I behave when I am being discriminated against?

Keep calm and level-headed!

Even when you have been insulted and feel to have been provoked by discriminatory behaviour, the most important rule in this situation is: stay calm and level-headed! A heated complaint or insulting the perpetrator of the discrimination could later become disadvantageous for you. Do not be provoked. Often the perpetrator uses this to denounce you (!), which makes the assertion of your rights considerably more complicated.

Therefore, stay as calm as possible and firstly ascertain whether there are witnesses or supporting evidence of the discriminatory act.  If other customers or passers-by have witnessed the situation, it is in your best interest to speak to those people immediately and take note of their names and telephone numbers, in order to call upon them later as witnesses. Secure any documents that may be used as evidence of the discriminatory act.

You should record a verbatim account of the situation as soon as it occurs. This is an important element in the process of proving that you were the victim of discrimination. Take note of:

  • Where and when the discrimination took place
  • Exactly what happened (for example, false reason for suspicion of theft by a salesperson, humiliating search of your bag in public by security staff)
  • Who was involved (for example sales or security staff)
  • Who were the witnesses? What evidence is there?
  • Why were you discriminated against? How can you be certain that you were discriminated against because of your nationality, the colour of your skin or your language?

Claim your rights immediately!

According to the AGG (General Act on Equal Treatment), you must register your claim within a term of two months if you believe you have been discriminated against, and you would like to challenge it.

In the area of industrial legislation (§ 15 para.4) a written complaint should be filed with the employer in abidance with this time limit; in civil law (§21 para.5) it is enough to make a verbal complaint, but it is always safer to make it in writing and send it by registered post.

Note: the legitimacy of the two-month time limit is questionable. Therefore, you can also – particularly in the area of industrial law – claim your rights even when the time limit has expired. The enforceability can of course be hindered however.

Filing a suit

The method of complaint described above is not a prerequisite for the filing of a suit in accordance with the AGG. You should consult with a counselling centre, a lawyer or obtain another expert legal advice if you would like to file a suit in court immediately or after the successful lodgement of a complaint. In choosing a lawyer, you should ascertain whether he or she has the necessary knowledge of the AGG. There are lawyers’ networks and unions which can give you the information you need.

Organize support for the legal proceedings. Speak with your friends and family about the discrimination you experienced and use, for example, the services provided by the ‘ADB NRW’ or another counselling centre. In this way you can ensure backing and help for the proceedings to follow.