German court rules pupils can rate teachers online

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court ruled Tuesday that schoolchildren may rate their teachers online, rejecting the case of a woman who argued her rights had been infringed by pupils who gave her bad grades on a popular website.

The Federal Court of Justice found that the rights of the woman, a teacher of German and religion, had not been compromised by the ratings and that pupils had a right to offer an opinion as long as they did not hinder her professionally.

“The opinions expressed are neither abusive nor insulting,” the court said in a statement. “The plaintiff did not show that she had been harmed in any specific way.”

The court said collection, storage, and transmission of ratings by online portal was therefore permissible without the assent of the plaintiff.

The website allows students to award teachers marks on a scale from one (very good) to six (unsatisfactory), the same scale on which German pupils are graded.

Categories assessed include “cool and funny,” “popular,” “motivated,” “human,” and “good teaching.”

The lawyers of the woman, who had been given a rating of 4.3 for her German teaching, argued that the site was unfair and inaccurate because users rate subjects anonymously.

This could lead to multiple ratings by the same person, as well as ratings by people with no connection to the school or teacher in question, they argued.

But the court said in this case, the right of the individual to express an opinion outweighed these concerns.

The operators of the website hailed the court’s ruling.

“The judges clearly said that the teacher herself is not being rated, but rather her job performance. Therefore it’s allowed and students may express this criticism publicly online,” said Tino Keller, the website’s editor-in-chief.

German commentators say the case could set an important precedent for other rating portals such as those for hotels, professors, doctors, and health insurers.

Additional reporting by Susanne Neumayer