When Brigitte Heinisch filed a criminal complaint against her employer in late 2004, she did not just flag allegedly dire conditions at a care home for the elderly in Berlin. In the legal saga that followed, she also exposed the precarious status of whistleblowers in Europe’s biggest economy.
Heinisch, then 43, was fired within weeks. In a multiyear series of court cases, German judges upheld that decision, arguing Heinisch had violated the “duty of allegiance” that she was required to show her employer under German law.
After the country’s constitutional court declined even to look at the case, Heinisch turned to the European Court of Human Rights. In a landmark decision in 2011, the Strasbourg judges quashed the German verdicts, ruling the dismissal was a violation of Heinisch’s freedom of expression.