Train managers: Sexual-Orientation comments are off limits

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) bars employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. In fact, the law clearly states, “Freedom from employment discrimination on account of sexual orientation is a civil right.”

Make sure supervisors know: Comments about an employee’s sexual orientation simply aren’t appropriate in the workplace. They’ll lead to trouble.

That’s especially true if a casual comment is followed by an adverse employment action, such as lower performance appraisals.

Recent case: Carl Williams, who is gay, worked for Sun Microsystems and received good reviews during his first eight years. That changed after his supervisor and several other employees talked over dinner while on a business trip. Allegedly, the supervisor exclaimed when asked about Williams, “Oh, my God, he’s gay.” One of the others at dinner then said some male colleagues were uncomfortable with Williams because they perceived that Williams was “coming on to” them.

The supervisor then reported the complaint to her boss. From then on, Williams’ performance evaluations slipped. Williams found another position (at a considerable salary increase), quit and sued. His allegation was that the discovery of his sexual orientation precipitated poor performance evaluations.

The California Court of Appeal ordered a trial. It reasoned that the timing of the revelation and subsequent performance complaints might be evidence of anti-gay bias. A jury will decide if that’s the case. (Williams v. Sun Microsystems, No. H029828, Court of Appeal of California, Sixth Appellate Division, 2007) 

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