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Fashion tip for the fall season: Don’t tolerate teasing about clothing

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s a warning for your super­­visors and managers: If an em­­ployee complains that other em­­ployees are making fun of his wardrobe choices or other manner of dressing, act fast to stop the teasing.

Reason: Stereotypes about what colors or garments are appropriate for which sex can trigger a successful sex discrimination or harassment lawsuit.

Recent case: Robert complained to his supervisors that co-workers made fun of his clothing choices—especially when he wore “girlish” pink, lavender or light blue colors. Plus, Robert alleged that he and another co-worker were often harassed by co-workers who speculated whether they had body piercings on their nipples or genitals and wondered whether they took “swinger cruises” together.

Their complaints were apparently ignored until they sued. Their employer argued that their complaints were not evidence of sex discrimination or harassment.

The court disagreed. It said that teasing and comments that show sex stereotyping about behavior, colors or other activities that are appropriate for a particular sex can be the basis for sex discrimination and sex­­ual harassment claims alike. (Felix v. State of California, Department of Devel­­op­­men­­tal Services, No. 1:13-cv-0561, ED CA, 2013)

Final note: Include sex stereo­typing in your sexual harassment training. You should include warnings against imposing either feminine or masculine traits on either sex. Don’t punish either female em­ployees who don’t wear makeup or dress in styles not typically feminine or males who wear colors not traditionally seen in men’s fashion.

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