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Dole out even the small perks equally

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

Employee benefits involve more than just health care and life insurance. Less-noticeable perks—like prime office locations and trips to out-of-town conferences—can also count … and they can become grounds for discrimination claims.

Remind managers to avoid playing favorites when it comes to handing out any workplace perks. If employees can sniff out a pattern that even hints at preferential treatment based on sex or some other protected category, you’re in legal hot water.

Recent case: Katherine Baron claimed her boss had a bad attitude toward women. Baron said he made comments like “Females should not be making any decisions.” But she didn’t allege sex discrimination until she noticed that he always approved the male employees’ requests to go to conferences, but turned down hers. She sued, alleging sex discrimination.

A lower court dismissed her claim, but the 2nd Circuit sent it to trial. Denying perks like trips to conferences can be disparate treatment motivated by sex discrimination. A jury will decide if that’s the case here. (Baron v. Winthrop University Hospital, et al., No. 03-7233, 2nd Cir., 2006)

Tip: Warn supervisors to keep their personal views to themselves. In this case, if the boss hadn’t been mouthing off so offensively, Baron might never have thought to look for other signs of sex discrimination.  

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