Court decides ‘weird’ is a gender-neutral insult — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Court decides ‘weird’ is a gender-neutral insult

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Discriminating against someone because they don’t conform to gender stereotypes can be sex discrimination. However, viewing someone as “weird” or unusual isn’t discriminatory if, in context, the label could apply to either sex.

Recent case: Paul was an assistant professor at a Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, working on a yearly contract. His first semester, he failed to turn in midterm grades and was warned not to make that mistake again.

Then he got into a dispute with his secretary, whose son was in Paul’s class. The son requested an extension of an assignment deadline because the young man is disabled. Paul initially refused the request before eventually relenting.

Paul’s contract was not renewed, ostensibly because he again failed to submit grades on time. Angry, Paul got into a loud argument with the secretary, who he blamed for his woes. He allegedly threw a CD at her.

Paul sued, claiming that he had lost the job because his secretary—who had testified she found Paul “weird”—had persuaded the administration not to renew his contract. He claimed being labeled weird was gender stereotyping and that the secretary regarded him as a strange and violent man.

The court rejected Paul’s arguments, pointing out that both men and women might be fairly characterized as weird. It said there was no sex stereotyping at play. (Kahan v. Slippery Rock University, et al., No. 15-1104, 3rd Cir., 2016)

Final note: The university won because it had solid reasons, tied to job performance, for not renewing Paul’s contract.

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