Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
[flagged] “I took FSFE to court. This is my story” (write.as)
114 points by yannovitch on Dec 21, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 76 comments

> A female colleague and me had dared to discuss wage transparency and gender pay gap in the office. […] Our boss Matthias was beyond furious. After that office meeting, he told my colleague “there will be consequences”.

Under German law you are not only allowed to talk about your salary with your colleagues, it is expressly illegal for your employer to try and stop you from doing this. I’m surprised a German boss would warn of “consequences” for doing that, and if FSFE had a union I doubt he would have gotten away with it.

> it is expressly illegal for your employer to try and stop you from doing this

Under which statute?

I'm only aware that those clauses in work contracts that forbade talking about your salary were consistently struck down by courts, when they didn't include reasonable limits to the prohibition, because they would restrict you from discussing your salary with your spouse or tax accountant.

Later courts ruled that even with such limitations, those clauses are void, because they run against the basic right of forming coalitions in the workplace (article 9, section 3 of the Basic Law).

But I'm not aware of any statute that bans those clauses expressis verbis. Is there a newish one?

I double checked and you’re right, there’s no specific law but there are a couple court cases where attempts to stop employees from discussing salaries were struck down (for example: https://dejure.org/dienste/vernetzung/rechtsprechung?Text=2%... )

> I’m surprised a German boss would warn of “consequences” for doing that

It's only a statement from one side. This can be 100% false, because people lie, often.

That makes no sense, "Under German law you are not only allowed to talk about your salary with your colleagues" and " it is expressly illegal for your employer to try and stop you from doing this", So its illegal to talk about it, but when you do its illegal for your employer to stop this?

Not the parent commenter, but it makes sense: you are allowed to talk about your salary, and your boss is not allowed to stop you from doing that.

English is not my native language but in many germanic languages "not only" does not mean "not" but rather the opposite of "not".

"Not only are you allowed to do X, also boss is explicitly forbidden to prevent you from doing X"

you are misparsing the first quote. it is allowed to talk about it.

Wow, this is horrible. It sounded like the court sided with you even though it was beyond their remit/reach to be able to fine them, which I think is pretty damming of the situation.

I hope that you can take some time out to recover and then go on to find something worthy of your time and effort within a positive environment.

(edit: grammar)

> we both felt secure that the free software movement is progressive, and cares about being inclusive and equal opportunities oriented.

Unfortunately it has been proved very often that this is not true. This is not the first case of racism and sexisme in FOSS and probably won't.

FOSS is made up of humans. A large number (perhaps all - take this as a personal warning) are downright nasty to some other groups of humans.

I always thought FOSS should be about software and bringing smart people together. It is starting to look like a political movement that isn't about software at all. This post is so self centered I can't take it seriously. ''' “why do you refer to dates in this format and not in that format”, while there is no office policy on following a particular date standard '''. Date format is super important...

This comment is so self-contradictory I can't take it seriously.

Your own exactly correct observation of the super importance of a date format (in most situations) expresses exactly one of the things that validate the overall complaint.

This means, there is some other unstated reason you dismiss the complaint. Because your stated reason actually supports it.

Are you trying to say that the /Free Software Foundation/ is somehow not political? The GPL people?? Or is "political movement" defined here as "women and minorities asking for fair treatment?"

yeah sure. fyi I am a male and I got treated similarly in by my previous employer. I also was able to find a person on similar position who makes more than me. There also was a person who made less than me. This isn't anti woman behavior just typical HR stuff and cost optimization. "Pay as little as possible". I couldn't play the woman or the race card. IT job market is very fluid. If her skills are valuable enough she will get the pay she deserves. Her blog post is less credible than Giulani's polling witness Mellisa Carone. This is not "women and minorities asking for fair treatment". This is a "women and minorities demanding privileged treatment under the threat of making an internet sensation and ruining someone's life with false accusations".

Free Software "starting to look like a political movement"? Political advocacy is a large part of what its organizations do, and has been for a long time.

> Our efforts coincided with the resignation of Richard Stallman from the US-based sister organisation of FSFE due to careless revictimisation of female victims of sexual abuse- another gender discrimination issue in our community that would cause the situation in our office to deteriorate quickly.

The casual misrepresentation of this saga also makes me skeptical of the authors viewpoint.

> This is not the first case of racism and sexisme in FOSS and probably won't.

The fish rots from the head down, and apart from Stallman (which is mentioned in the article) I for myself would personally add Torvalds to that same conversation (even though with a little less overt sexism, but definitely with more bullying).

But because Torvalds's project has had an incredible ROI, i.e. it has made lots of people lots of money (heck, I for myself only started learning Python 17 years ago because I had a Linux distro easily at hand) his position is pretty much safe for the time being.

Torvalds is interesting because of his recent attempts to be better. He took time off, got therapy, and wants to change.

Even if he's not as successful as we all hope, I can respect that he is trying.

Some folks just like being a jerk, and want to enjoy continuing to do so.

It has been proven very often that the good intension of people like Stallman that devoted their life to the cause have been hijacked by people that used FOSS to find employment in big corporations and infiltrated committees and standard bodies to keep pushing their employers' agenda.

No one can seriously believe that there exists an organisation that is completely free from tensions between members, sometimes people simply make mistakes, what counts is how the organisation react and the proportion.

If the fish rots from the head, what should we think about Apple where Steve Jobs was known for bullying and terrorising employees for no real reason?

Big tech in US have been condemned for the infamous no-hire agreement in SV After a class action filed on behalf of roughly 60,000 workers (sixty thousands).

For instance, after a Google recruiter solicited an Apple employee, Schmidt told Jobs that the recruiter would be fired, court documents show. Jobs then forwarded Schmidt’s note to a top Apple human resources executive with a smiley face.

That's the real issue nowadays in FOSS, not the lack of human perfection.

Nothing even remotely similar has ever happened inside the FSF, apart when they assaulted Stallman over a fabricated issue and forced him to resign

I could make names, but I don't want a shadow ban from HN, suffice to say that some of these people work at Google .

> No one can seriously believe that there exists an organisation that is completely free from tensions between members, sometimes people simply make mistakes, what counts is how the organisation react and the proportion

True, but if cases like this happens, then there should be an investigation.

> I could make names, but I don't want a shadow ban from HN, suffice to say that some of these people work at Google .

You are using a newly created (6 days old) account anyways.

> True, but if cases like this happens, then there should be an investigation.

Did somebody ask to the FSFE?

I didn't so I can't honestly take sides on this.

But as a long time donor and former member of the chaos computer club (when I lived in Berlin) I will write to them to ask for more information.

> You are using a newly created (6 days old) account anyways.

I use anonymity to protect myself from retaliation, it happened in the past, it's been bad, but I've learned my lessons.

Anyway it shouldn't be too hard to check if some actual or former Google employee was in the FSF (against Stallman) and my claims are true or a lie.

Torvalds isn't a bully, he's very realistic and stern. Sometimes code really is unnecessary garbage. Software engineering is real engineering and linux is used by serious organisations. Contributing code to Linux is like laying your own concrete on top of the burj khalifa.

For the record, the FSFE published a response here: https://fsfe.org/about/statement-20201220.html

> [...] we felt it necessary to state unequivocally that this post does not reflect the reality of the facts and contradicts the verdict by the Berlin Labour Court.

> The court judgement of 19 November 2020 (reference number 42 Ca 5723/20) did not acknowledge any factual basis to the assertions. Furthermore the judges concluded that our former employee's own statements prove that she “neither experienced hostility, nor was she offended, nor in another form intimidated or demeaned”. Additionally they found, she received equal treatment, and that “the boundaries of socially acceptable conduct” were “not exceeded”.

> Until the end of the proceedings, we do not wish to comment any further [...]

It seems to me that the court in question is the Arbeitsgericht Berlin. I couldn't find the referenced code[1], and I then went through the list of documents of Nov 2020 in chronological order, and couldn't find it either. I don't know where to take this next--write to or call the court to ask for details?

[1] https://www.berlin.de/gerichte/arbeitsgericht/suche.php?q=42...

Does anyone know where I can find any relevant court documents? Specifically the "The court basically says that even though they recognise my claims as true [...]".

If the court claim is affirming of her claims, and her story stands up, this is worth carrying forwards.

There are few organisations that can successfully promote and defend free software, for one of the major ones to be headed by a person who behaves like described is incredibly concerning - what other lies and manipulations does he partake in?

Without context and without knowing what was her job, I'm very surprised at how poorly written this is. It should be much better organized, the points she makes should be made clearer and it shouldn't read like the rough first draft of a rant.

She should also include the excerpts of the judgement since they sided with her. If she was tasked with rewriting the text announcing Stallman's departure and she produced something this bad, it's no wonder it wasn't published.

I'm not saying that there isn't a problem, but in a story about an employee who was fired due to discrimination instead of incompetence, competence does matter and if her job had anything to do with communication then she does fail spectacularly at this job.

If, however, she was a software developer, then it's another story and her complaint has probably more merit.

Based on an educated guess and a bit of googling, I think she was a project manager. Also, English is obviously not her native language, and emotional turmoil (such as from an unhappy encounter with the legal system) sometimes interferes, in my personal experience, with second language skills.

You did better than me, I tried googling quickly for Malina Galina but mostly got that post. Her English vocabulary is fine but she clearly doesn't know how to structure her discourse. It's also been quite a while since then, so she has had time to edit and clarify her thoughts. I'm not a native speaker either, most of the people I interact with are not native English speakers but most people I work with professionally tend to be better at structuring their thoughts logically.

The id that the court assigned to the case would help a lot.

She also complains that she's been mistreated for being a foreign woman, but based on my experience (I've lived in Berlin as non German) and her English (mine is not better) there is a strong propability that something got lost in translation and they simply misunderstood each other.

Without ever having heard of this case, I'd like to add two, maybe unrelated, datapoints:

* I know Matthias Kirschner personally (though not very good). This story does not fit the character I met.

* There is a campaign of disinformation, character assassination and harrassment going on against the Debian project, the FSFE, and their members (maybe other projects as well). This has been going on for multiple years now, presumably all orchestrated by the same individual, impersonating a multitude of different persons.


I also met Malina Galina in person, she made a positive impression on me. I just found out the linked text also shows up on her twitter account.

Yet the courts validated her assertions.

I take that as entirely trumping this attempt to deny or excuse the inexcusable.

According to who though? She made bold claims, without providing any actual proof in the form of court documents. Why jump to assume she's in the right?

Did she hide her identity?

According to her, the courts validated her assertions. According to the FSF, they did not. https://fsfe.org/about/statement-20201220.html

Unless someone pulls the court documents and gets them translated, we are very much operating in a word-against-word situation

I believe the author has legitimate grievances, but I found that article very hard to read and understand (except that it's clear the author and Matthias had very bad interactions). It reads as a confusing diary entry or a first rough draft, not an article for public consumption.

And I was considering donating to them for Christmas. I can do better it seems.

As an individual is there anything we can do to support this case?

I think the most sensible thing to do is gather all the information before taking sides.

There are no names in this story, nobody can confirm or deny it and few of the claims are suspicious.

For example

Unfortunately, the German law foresees only monetary and no other type of compensation

That's not true, most of the sentences favourable to the plaintiff not only award the worker with a monetary compensation but usually order the reinstatement as well.

Of course a court in a country where the legal system is based on the civil law cannot force anybody to ask for forgiveness if the law does not dictate it.

You can't ask to a court of the civil law to emit a verdict that the law does not contemplate.

> I think the most sensible thing to do is gather all the information before taking sides.

True, but I think this should become more known to a wider audience to start an investigation.

you're assuming "wider audience" doesn't equate to social media mob, which sadly seems to be the typical progression of such news.

Agreed, but how to avoid such a mob? The only way would be to be silent about this subject and not share it.

You can spread the word of this story, and make sure people know that this is who decides how donations to the fsfe will be used.

Perhaps a strong drop in donations will be the catalyst for change and self reflection.

Thanks for sharing.

The official FSFE Statement: https://fsfe.org/about/statement-20201220.html

I don't understand this 'wages gap' issue. Any organization is interested in extracting maximum value from hired labour, ideally paying the lowest possible wage that a person agrees to work for. There is no some special incentive to pay women less than men: the only reason it is possible is that because women agree to work for less. So, it's on them, not on 'sexist' 'misogynist' entrepreneurs.

As a consequence, if a woman agrees to work for less for doing the same job with the same results, it would make her much more attractive for hiring. A no-brainer, really.

the problem is that if women consistently get paid less then it is hard for any single woman to stand up and ask for more. and if salaries are not being discussed then they won't even know.

Hm. Why should they even know? If a person is doing a job, I'm paying for it. If a person wants more, I can either decide to raise wage, if the value I extract from work justifies a raise, or let this person go. It's only a matter of my individual agreement with the worker.

Also, this 'equality' approach _reeks_ socialism to me, and, coming from a country that suffered from socialism for 70 years, I have seen with my own eyes what disastrous economic effect this has on the workforce.

In theory, equal wages lead to more just distribution of wealth. In practice, they just destroy productivity. In the USSR, people had _extremely_ low productivity because life taught them that no matter how hard they work, they'll get paid exactly the same as the most lazy useless colleague who does absolutely nothing all day long.

Salary is a price that a person is willing to sell their work for, and if they are not happy with what they get, they can ask for a raise. If it is not given, it is likely because the work they are doing is not worth it. But they are free to look elsewhere for a bigger pay.

while i acknolwdge your point about paying everyone the same, no matter how hard they work, this is not the issue here. senior people get paid more than juniors, and those working hard make it to senior faster.

the problem is that women get paid less even if they work as hard or harder than men.

the only way to discover this is to compare salaries.

Working hard isn't the only factor influencing how much someone is paid. It also depends on qualification and eventual productivity.

As I started this argument, the goal of an employer is to pay as little as possible for given work. Let's turn this argument around: if male and female are equally qualified, what would make anyone pay male _more_? If a female accepts to work for less, than she's going to be hired in the first place!

So, maybe females are paid less because they are less productive on the average? It's quite plausible, because they objectively have more distractions then men (giving birth, raising children, etc) . This is a rather valid reason to compensate them with higher pay, but presenting it as 'equal pay for equal fork' is an intentional deception.

that may be true if men and women are actually considered equal, but you are ignoring until recently it was commonly accepted that women are weaker, and generally less capable than men.

therefore the assumption must be that women are paid less because of of this perceived difference, and any claim that women are actually less productive must be proven with extraordinary evidence.

> but you are ignoring until recently it was commonly accepted that women are weaker,

Last time I checked, women's weightlifting or running records were nowhere near those of men. So it is an objective law of nature that women are indeed physically weaker. (To compensate for that, they have unique abilities that men totally lack.)

> therefore the assumption must be that women are paid less because of of this perceived difference

The assumption must be that everyone is paid as low as he/she agrees to work for. It that amount is lower for women, it is only because they agree to work for less. Any rational employer should hire the candidate who asks for less money, and any boss who does not do that will likely go out of business soon, since he can't make rational decisions.

By the way, it is also possible, that a person overestimates his/hers real value to the employer, believing to be doing the same work as another colleague, but getting less pay, starting this fight for 'justice'. In the reality it is most likely that a colleague is only perceived equal, but is somewhat superior in reality.

TL;DR: your salary is an objective value of your labour. if you think you it is worth more, negotiate a raise or go get a better paying job. If you don't get it, you are not worth that pay.

we are not talking about physical labor here, but work that requires the use of your brain.

observable physical weakness has no bearing on any other capacities, but what i said above is specifically about those other capacities.

i expect to see evidence that women are less capable programmers, project managers, etc.

the only thing that a salary measures objectively, is your negotiation skills.

i absolutely disagree that everyone should only be paid what they are able to negotiate for.

if there is an objective measure of performance (which, i admit is very hard, if it is possible at all) then equal performance should get equal pay. maybe add in equal responsibility, since that is also a factor.

> we are not talking about physical labor here, but work that requires the use of your brain.

English is not my first language and I'm not really familiar with the use of word 'weak' to describe mental capacity. Personally, I perceive women to be just as capable as men when it comes to intellectual work.

I don't agree with you that salary measures only negotiation skills. If you are a god-tier haggler, but zero in programming, you wouldn't have big salary for long. Your compensation is based mostly on the value you provide, which is only somewhat influenced by your negotiation skills.

You yourself say that it is very hard to objectively measure the performance of an intellectual worker. I think that is not just very hard, but simply impossible. Consequently, we can't pay people equally for equal performance because we can't even measure that performance to begin with.

In contrast, direct negotiations system is fair, and works both ways. If you think you are underpaid, go on a job market and find a better paying job. If you can't, your perceived market value is lower than you think. If you can, and leave for greener pastures, your current employer will lose a skilled worker, because he underpaid you.

Rational employer will seek to maximize the value extracted from employees, and hire the cheapest candidate with sufficient skills. Rational worker will seek the best paying job. Eventually the job market reaches an equilibrium, and everyone is paid what he or she is currently worth in current economy.

So if some woman thinks that she's paid less than her male colleague, she can just test herself against the marker. If she can't find an equally or better paid job, maybe she's overvaluing herself. And if she can, well, she can simply change job for a better paying one!

(And we don't need to make some bizarre attempts to create a performance measurement system, which inevitably will be flawed and inaccurate)

The problem is also how the issue is depicted.

For example Italy is highly unionised so there can't be a gender pay gap in jobs regulated by a national contract (most of them are)

There is however a gender pay gap between men and women, in general, of a couple thousands euros/year (it kept going down in the last few years)

But it's hard to link it to the fact that women are paid less to do the same job, it's based on the fact that historically many women didn't work or had jobs with a lower general pay (for example 90% of the teachers in primary and elementary schools and 80% in high schools are women)

The issue exists but not because men are usually paid more to do the same job.

Thank you malinagalina for writing this and yannovitch for submitting it. These things are hard to hear about when you mostly follow a group's official channels.

In my mind this article lacks some detail to be 100% convincing (I can't really imagine that a discussion of pay would be penalized, especially in Germany, especially in such an org), but my donations are halted for now. Should this be true the least thing to expect would be Matthias Kirschner stepping down.

For the mean time: Which other Europe/Germany-centered FOSS organizations are there doing similar work one could support instead?

Operations like the FSF have a single goal - to promote Free Software.

If they can also promote equality at the same time, then great.

But the goal of promoting equality and free software are not equal - free software is the primary goal.

If the organisation is acting illegally, then it's a matter for the police. But if the organisation is focussing on it's primary goal rather than a 2ndary goal you think is more important, it's probably a sign it's time to quit and start your own organisation with different goals...

That is the lamest excuse I have ever heard.

If my organizations goal is feeding the homeless, am I free to only hire white people because racism is not my organization's primary goal?

You can achieve your organisation's primary goal without being horrible human beings. That's allowed. In fact, it's basic human decency.

No, because discrimination in hiring on the basis of race is illegal. It does mean the org should probably not focus its efforts on running a big public pr campaign about hiring ethnic minorities though.

That's all in the general case though, unfortunately it does sound like there was some bad practice in the fsfe specifically this time. There are two sides to every story though. I'd want to hear both before making judgement.

Some folks think that morality and law are the same thing. That the very meaning of "ethics" is "things not on the list of illegal things". And if the law was not involved here or did not force anything to happen, then clearly everything was ethical.

We call those people sociopaths.

your ethics don't agree with my ethics therefore you're a sociopath, got it.......totally concrete rational argument there.

I believe donors have certain baseline expectations towards the organizations those days. Showing up at employee’s home after being told by her lawyer not to, is such a HUGE no-no, it borders on abuse.

I cannot disagree strongly enough.

We have lost sight of the idea that all organizations should use long term thinking and have the following priorities, in this order:

* Do nothing that harms our employees, customers, or our investors

* Accomplish our mission, whatever mission that is

* Create revenue for investors

If the OP's account is true (I have no reason to discount it) then the FSFE violated rule #1. I'd argue that the FSF mission is to promote free software and a healthy ecosystem of Open Source software and developers. If you accept that as the FSF mission, and the account is true, then they also violated rule #2.

We should not rely on the laws to prompt us to act for social good. The laws are there to isolate and protect us from those who do not act morally in the eyes of the state.

The major concern here is not the equality or freedom to share salary, but the conduct of Matthias Kirschne. The concern is that he conducted a campaign of intimidation, disinformation, and outright lies. Such behavioural traits are not limited in scope to inequality cases. These would be Matthias Kirschne's tactics for life revealed to the world.

This perception of appropriate conduct, revealed in this case, will significantly hamstring the FSFE in achieving its primary goal. This conduct introduces significant out of band risk to the proceedings of the FSFE. This conduct introduces significant risk to those associating with the FSFE.

We do need a link to the relevant court documents before dusting off the pitchforks.

> If the organisation is acting illegally, then it's a matter for the police.

You need to learn the difference between öffentliches Recht and privatrecht.

Having a different primary goal than "act ethically" does not excuse unethical and illegal behavior.

I didn't think my respect for the FSFE could get any lower, and then along comes this.

Could you share what made them lose your respect before this?

I lost faith in FSF when they sacked rms

FSF is not FSFE

This would be easier to read with spacing between paragraphs. Or reader mode.

Why is this flagged?


That's reductionist to the point of meaningless. There's a spectrum of communications from 'professional and respectful' to 'shaming, sexual abuse and discrimination'. It's a lame argument to throw up your hands and pretend there's no way out. Often used by folks seeking to explain away their terrible behavior.

For me, the price of interaction is not worth the risk. I've never seen a time at work where speaking about literally anything has gained me something. And the risk of saying something someone else doesn't like is too big and too impactful on my career.

Again, its pretty sad if one can't figure out how to talk to another person without shaming them, denigrating their sex or making inappropriate advances. How about, talking professionally about the job?

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact