Why It’s Important to Address Sexual Stereotypes on the Job

By Eric B. Meyer

Many states and localities have laws forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (LGBT).

But federal law does not prohibit it.

What federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) does make unlawful, however, is stereotyping based on a person’s gender non-conforming behavior (i.e., a man who appears effeminate, or a “manly” woman). As a Virginia federal court re-emphasized last week, sex stereotyping is central to all discrimination:

Discrimination involves generalizing from the characteristics of a group to those of an individual, making assumptions about an individual because of that person’s gender, assumptions that may or may not be true.”

Spelling out sex stereotyping

Recognizing that the line between unlawful sex stereotyping and lawful (yet despicable) discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation can be tough to draw, the Virginia court denied a defendant’s motion to dismiss a pro se plaintiff’s sex stereotyping claims because he alleged that he was given crappy assignments based on the company’s position that his failure to conform to gender norms reflected poorly upon the company and would displease its clients.

This was enough, at the pleading the stage, to spell out plausible claims for sex stereotyping. Whether the plaintiff can ultimately prevail is another story.

The takeaway here is this: there are certain incendiary words that, when used in workplaces — especially blue-collar workplaces — that may create immediate animosity and, ultimately, lead to lawsuits from male or female employees.

Article Continues Below

Incendiary words for the workplace

Take, for example, the word “bitch.” Courts recognize that calling a woman a bitch is intentional discrimination based on gender. But, calling a man a “bitch” (or “faggot” or “woman”) can also give rise to a sex stereotyping claim based on a failure to conform to gender norms.

So, when conducting respect-in-the-workplace training, don’t give same-sex harassment short shrift. Instead, explain it, give examples, and remind employees that they don’t have to endure that kind of crap at work. Encourage anyone who experiences or witnesses sex stereotyping to complain about it so that it may be addressed and dealt with immediately.

Also, if you’re one of the few employers that hasn’t progressed beyond the confines of Title VII to preclude discrimination based on sexual orientation, get out of the stone ages and join us here in the 21st century.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

Topics

1 Comment on “Why It’s Important to Address Sexual Stereotypes on the Job

  1. If we would look for areas where we resemble each other, rather than concentrating on differences, the world would be a happier place. Really.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *