Corona dispute at Stuttgart Regional Court: Art teacher sues 18-year-old student (Case No. 11 O 538/20)

by RA Dr. Christian Seyfert, LL.M. (San Francisco, GGU)

Our client, an 18-year-old student at Schickhardt Gymnasium preparatory high school in Stuttgart, is not allowed to wear a mask for medical reasons. After having filed a doctor’s certificate to that effect with the principal of the high school, she sat without a mask in class at a sufficient distance from her classmates to rule out any danger to her fellow students.

The student’s art teacher did not like the fact that our client did not wear a mask in class. On October 14, 2020, the art teacher asked our client in front of the other students at the beginning of class to accompany her to the principal's office. After the art teacher conferred with the principal of the high school, our client was then required to remove herself from the classroom in front of other students and sit alone in a storage room for the entire art lesson. At issue in the lawsuit was whether the art teacher allegedly uttered the following phrase in front of the other students, "Now the madame even has her own room" (in original German: „Jetzt hat die Madame sogar ihren eigenen Raum“). As a result, it was not possible for our client to participate in class and was unable to watch a film that the art teacher showed to the other students in the art classroom.

Our client subsequently complained in interviews to the BILD and Ludwigsburger Kreiszeitung newspapers that she had been removed from class by her art teacher and placed alone in a storage room, despite the fact that she was not allowed to wear a mask for medical reasons. Our client further expressed to the newspapers that the art teacher commented on this in front of the entire class, saying, "Now the madame even has her own room." Furthermore, our client expressed her displeasure to the newspapers that she had been discriminated against by her art teacher based on the above circumstances.

Although the art teacher had already discriminated as described above against our client in art class, the art teacher subsequently went to a lawyer and applied to the Regional Court in Stuttgart for the issuance of a temporary injunction against our client because of her aforementioned statements, which had meanwhile been published by the press. From their stance, the aforementioned statements made by our client would violate the general personal rights of the art teacher.

Today, January 21, 2021, the Regional Court in Stuttgart decided in favor of our client regarding all aforementioned expressions. Our client may therefore continue to claim publicly or to third parties that she was discriminated against by her art teacher in art class on October 14, 2020, and that she was removed from class by her art teacher and placed in a storage room. After taking evidence, the Regional Court of Stuttgart also came to the conclusion that the art teacher indeed uttered the sentence, "Now the madame even has her own room," in front of our client's classmates, therefore our client may continue to claim and disseminate the art teacher’s utterance and conduct on that day.

Representing the 18-year-old student before the Stuttgart Regional Court on Dec. 17, 2020, in a hearing that lasted almost 4 hours, Attorney Dr. Christian Seyfert welcomed the verdict of the Stuttgart Regional Court:

"Freedom of expression rightly has a high value in Germany. If a student is discriminated against in class by her teacher, she is then also entitled to complain about this discrimination and to—without fear—express her opinion freely. It is simply not my client's fault that she is not allowed to wear a mask for medical reasons. In such cases, schools must be more sensitive and not simply remove a student from the classroom and put her in a cubbyhole. That is degrading."

Incidentally, the regional administrative council responsible for schools was also present at today's pronouncement of judgment. In the meantime, the art teacher who sued our client has been replaced by a new art teacher at the Schickhardt Gymnasium high school. As soon as schools in Baden-Württemberg reopen, our client will be allowed to participate in art classes again just as before and the students will then be taught by a new art teacher with immediate effect. Our client will continue to keep a sufficient distance from her classmates in order to protect them as long as the pandemic continues.

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