Opera singer set to sue Berlin metro operator over discrimination claims
American-German opera singer Jeremy Osborne is set to sue BVG, Berlin’s transport association. Osborne alleges that he was verbally discriminated against and physically abused by ticket inspectors in the German capital.
Opera singer accuses ticket inspectors on Berlin U-Bahn of discrimination
An American-German opera singer is set to sue the BVG public transport operator for racial discrimination. Back in October 2020, Jeremy Osborne was sitting on the U2 line when four plain-clothed ticket inspectors stepped onto his carriage. When they asked for his ticket, Osborne asked the inspectors to show proof that they were entitled to see his pass. The inspectors then purportedly snatched his pass and made him leave the train.
Osborne alleges that the inspectors told him, “Black Lives Matter is only an excuse for you” and pushed him onto a metal bench, causing scrapes that required treatment in hospital. “I’ve lived in Baltimore, New York, Nice and Vienna, but in no city have I felt as unsafe on public transport as in Berlin,” he told reporters. “It’s as if the controllers feel they have the freedom to harass you at will.”
The inspectors were apparently subcontractors. Since the BVG has not installed ticket barriers for fire safety and building preservation reasons, it employs around 170 ticket inspectors to check travellers’ tickets. A quarter of these inspectors work for BVG and wear BVG uniforms, while the others work for two private subcontractors. These subcontractors have only started wearing uniforms since November last year.
Since Osborne brought his case to court, the BVG subcontractor, Berlin Object Protection and Service (BOS), has produced a report that accuses Osborne of provoking the inspectors. The report, which was written a year and a half after the incident and is partly inconsistent with the report written by the police immediately after, accuses Osborne of removing his ticket “very slowly” and referring to the inspectors as Ausländer (foreigners - three of the inspectors were Turkish citizens). Osborne, who had not gained his German citizenship at the time, denies these allegations.
Singer to be the first to sue BVG under new anti-discrimination law
Osborne’s case will mark the first time Berlin's public transport operator is sued under Berlin’s new anti-discrimination law, which was enacted in 2020. The law prohibits discrimination based on someone’s skin colour, gender, religion, disability, worldview, age or sexual orientation in a public authority’s area of responsibility. Osborne’s lawyers argue that this law has been broken by the BVG and its ticket inspectors.
BVG argues that it has no legal responsibility for the conduct of its ticket inspectors on its trains and trams. The BVG legal team has argued, in a letter to Osborne’s lawyers, that a public transport ticket is a private-law contract and fines are a penalty for breach of contract, rather than an administrative act.