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.
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Respond ASAP to complaints about stereotyping
- Handle supervisor harassment with a good policy, timely investigation and independent review
- Ensure you can justify gender pay disparities
- If workers' 'free speech' threatens others, you can ban it