The following definitions are not exhaustive, but are rather the result of BDB’s longstanding and ever-evolving engagement with the issues of discrimination and racism, both in theory and in practice.


Discrimination is the negative and/or exclusionary treatment of groups and individuals because of their membership of a particular group – or because of the assumption that they belong to that group. This negative or exclusionary treatment can result, for instance, in people being denied access to certain places, such as discos or gyms, job positions, higher education or housing.

Forms of discrimination

Discrimination can take different forms, such as personal comments or denying people of certain groups access to social or cultural goods. It can take the form of exclusionary, stereotyping images portrayed in the media or in the context of education. Discrimination also occurs when the interests of a particular group are not listened to or represented in politics. Discriminated persons thus have more difficult access to social life and to the goods and resources needed for it. Discrimination takes place according to various social categories: skin colour, ethnicity or origin, gender, sexual identity or physical or mental disability/impediment. It is also possible that a person is affected by several forms of discrimination at the same time, e.g. racist and sexist discrimination. This is called multiple discrimination. When we want to draw attention to the interaction of different forms of discrimination and the resulting specific consequences, we speak of “intersectionality”.

There are different levels of discrimination

  • in laws and regulations (structural governmental discrimination)
  • in the everyday treatment in state-run public offices (institutional governmental discrimination)
  • in businesses, stores, recreational facilities or the housing market (institutional discrimination in the private sector)
  • in interaction with individuals as well as with informally and formally organised groups in civil society, such as political parties or sport clubs (interpersonal/individual-level discrimination) (im Alltag weg))
  • in the media and books (cultural discrimination)
  • in physical assaults, threats and attacks (violent discrimination)


In the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) in Germany, there is a specific definition of discrimination which does not cover all discrimination forms, but aims to provide protection for certain groups which are strongly affected by discrimination. The AGG is meant to help discrimination victims fight discrimination in the private sector, i.e. for example discrimination in the labour market, when looking for a flat or when shopping in a store. If discrimination takes place in interaction with state institutions, the AGG only applies if the discrimination takes place in the employee-employer relationship. It is assumed that other laws, such as the Social Code, police laws, national laws, school laws and higher education laws, already sufficiently protect citizens from governmental discrimination.

According to the AGG, discrimination is defined as follows:

Discrimination is defined as the unequal, negative or exclusionary treatment of people based on group-specific characteristics, such as skin colour and ethnic origin, gender, religion, belief, disability, age or sexual identity (Other characteristics such as socio-economic status or weight discrimination are not yet recognized by the AGG.). Discrimination is expressed through verbal statements, actions, regulations and institutional structures. 
Disadvantaged positions result from unequal treatment – as well as from equal treatment if this equal treatment does not consider how particular groups may be unequally and strongly affected by particular regulations or actions (for instance, if a company lays off primarily part-time workers, this will have an unequal and much stronger effect upon women, who work much more often in part-time employment than men).

Link to the AGG

Link to the AGG guide

Protection against discrimination by state institutions

In June 2020, Berlin’s State Anti-Discrimination Act (LADG) came into force. Anti-discrimination organisations across Germany have stressed for decades that the existing laws do not adequately protect people when they are discriminated against by state offices and authorities (or their employees). These cases account for one fourth of the complaints received by BDB. This new Berlin law offers more protection against discrimination by authorities and institutions at the state level, e.g. by the police, the district office or in schools or universities (unfortunately, this law does not apply if the authorities are cooperatively organised at the state and federal level, e.g. the German Job Centres). To support the reporting and clarification of discrimination cases by public authorities, a state ombudsman’s office has been established. The ombudsman offers victims of discrimination free legal advice in asserting their rights when dealing with Berlin’s state authorities.

In addition, the LADG offers many improvements compared to the AGG:

  • An expansion of the forms of discrimination that one can be protected against (nationality, chronic illness and social status).
  • Replacement of the term “race” with a much more sensitive and accurate term: “racial attribution”.
  • Extension of the time window for filing claims for damages: from 2 months to 1 year
  • The opportunity for anti-discrimination organisations to file legal cases independent of an individual going to court for his or her own case (unfortunately there is still no financial support to make legal action possible for small organisations)
  • A case may go before a court based on their being good reason to presume this may be true (presumption rule) instead of first requiring victims to produce the difficult burden of proof
  • Discrimination is to be prevented by explicitly promoting an administrative organisational culture which is respectful and appreciative of diversity

Link to the LADG

Questions and answers on the LADG