Check patronizing attitudes—and comments—at the workplace door. Protective attitudes have no place at work and even a comment or two may spur on a sex-discrimination lawsuit.
That’s why HR must tell managers and supervisors: Lay off the “I know what’s good for the delicate sex” comments. They are direct evidence of sex discrimination and a sure way to court.
Plus, if a female employee complains, tell managers not to go to the other extreme in an effort to “treat her like one of the guys.” As the following case shows, that can backfire into a retaliation lawsuit.
Recent case: Donna Lewis graduated from the Chicago police academy and worked as a plainclothes officer dealing on a regular basis with drug dealers and gangs. She was no shrinking violet. But her supervisor told her she couldn’t go on a special assignment to Washington, DC, where police were expecting trouble from protesters demonstrating against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Lewis said her supervisor told her she couldn’t go because she was a female, that “it would be dangerous and that she would thank him for it later.”
She sued, alleging that she had been denied an employment benefit (experience in riot control) and overtime pay. She also claimed that after she complained, her supervisor regularly placed her in compromising positions by sending her out without adequate backup. He did this by personally radioing and ordering her out.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a trial. It said the sexist comments were direct evidence of sex discrimination, and denying Lewis overtime and experience was an adverse employment action. Plus, since the supervisor had never personally radioed her on assignments before she complained, but did afterward, she’ll get a chance to convince a jury he retaliated by placing her in danger. (Lewis v. City of Chicago, et al., No. 06-2302, 7th Cir., 2007)