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Journalist Reichelt: Allegations of fraud and stress with the labor court

Photo: Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images

Room 334 in the Berlin Labour Court was well filled, dozens of press representatives wanted to find out live on Friday afternoon what was going on between the prominent brawlers – and had to leave after half an hour. The conciliation negotiations between ex-"Bild" editor-in-chief Julian Reichelt and the Axel Springer publishing house have failed.

The result had been widely expected, most recently Springer and her former top executive had publicly covered themselves with accusations that the parties seemed irreconcilable. Specifically, the conflict is about chats and documents that Reichelt is said to have passed on to various media, including Holger Friedrich, head of the Berlin publishing house, which publishes the "Berliner Zeitung". Springer, on the other hand, knows this because Friedrich himself sounded the alarm at the publisher's legal department. It was a matter of "professional standards to inform the other person that I was provided with unclean information," the publisher argued at the time.

The lawsuit that Springer is now waging against Reichelt, supported by this information, plays on two fronts. On the one hand, the publisher is demanding a severance payment of two million euros back. In a settlement agreement that Reichelt signed after his termination, he is said to have undertaken to either delete confidential data or hand it over to the employer. Secondly, Reichelt is said to have poached employees from Axel Springer in a total of five cases – although his winding-up agreement expressly excluded this. The contractual penalty that Springer intends to assert amounts to 192,000 euros.

The criminal accusation of fraud, to which the public prosecutor's office in Berlin is investigating, was not part of the hearing on Friday.

Reichelt's lawyer denies wrongdoing

Stephan Pötters, an employment lawyer from the Frankfurt law firm Seitz, admitted in the conciliation hearing that Reichelt had sent chats with an employee to Holger Friedrich – but beyond that, Springer's allegations were unfounded. His client had never passed on "confidential documents", but only private ones. For example, chats that are intended to refute the accusation that Reichelt, as editor-in-chief, had demanded "sex on demand" from an employee. This is clearly not "material from Axel Springer".

In the meantime, Reichelt has sued Springer himself, demanding the release of "personal data", i.e. the results of the compliance investigation, which ultimately contributed to his expulsion from Springer. Reichelt was accused of misconduct against young female employees, in several cases he is said to have mixed professional and private life. He would now like to know more about the women who have testified against him internally – and damages of at least 1000 euros. The publisher's lawyers consider these claims to be unfounded. Publication of the report would be "diametrically opposed" to basic legal principles, including witness protection.

Nothing has been settled in the legal dispute. An agreement failed, and a chamber hearing is expected to take place on 15 November.

Neither Reichelt nor Springer boss Mathias Döpfner appeared in person at the conciliation hearing, both sides were represented by labor lawyers. Instead, there was another person in the room: Johannes Boie, who once became editor-in-chief of »Bild« as successor to Julian Reichelt and tried internally to come to terms with the corporate culture. In the meantime, he is no longer in office, and he spent the conciliation hearing at the labor court like many others: as an observer.