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‘Sexist attitude’ isn’t direct evidence of discrimination

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

To support sex discrimination lawsuits, employees must do more than claim their supervisor had a “sexist attitude.” Without more proof of job-related impact, complaints about supervisors with attitude aren’t enough direct evidence.

Employees have two ways to prove discrimination: by direct evidence or circumstantial evidence.

If they can show direct evidence, employees need to show only that they lost the job because of discrimination. When it’s circumstantial evidence of bias, the employee must present much more to support the claim, and the employer has a chance to prove why it took the action it did.

Recent case: John Toney worked for a female supervisor who felt strongly about women and their role in the workplace.

She fired Toney for allegedly breaking four work rules, including arguing with a subordinate.

Toney sued for discrimination, alleging that his boss fired him because he was a man. As direct proof, Toney testified that his boss generally didn’t like men and that “women rule” at the office. On several occasions, his boss also stated she didn’t need a male to do anything for her. She also allegedly told Toney that he couldn’t deal with her being a strong, independent woman.

The court tossed out Toney’s case, concluding that isolated statements, although sexist, weren’t direct evidence. At most, they were circumstantial evidence, which Toney had to show were somehow related to his discharge. (Toney v. Montgomery Job Corps, No. 04-14749, 11th Cir., 2006)

Final tip: Don’t walk away from this case thinking it’s OK to make stupid sexist remarks. Remember: This employer had to spend thousands defending itself.  

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