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When it comes to sex-based stereotyping, some industries are more resistant to change than others. The “company culture” may be a bastion of outdated beliefs about what women can and cannot do. Decision-makers may not even fully understand that their preferences for hiring employees of one gender can create liability.

If that’s the case where you work, you may want to use the following case to explore that corporate culture—and then push to change it.

Recent case: Deborah Merritt worked for Old Dominion Freight Line as a long-haul driver. Over many years, she never got a single complaint about her work.

Seeking to work closer to home, Merritt applied for several openings as a pick-up and delivery driver. Of the 3,100 such drivers working for Old Dominion Freight Line, only six were female. Finally, on the third try, she got one of the coveted spots.

Again, Merritt had no problems—until she hurt her ankle at work. She had to take a few months off, but eventually her doctor gave her a clean bill of health.

But, Old Dominion Freight Line refused to reinstate her without a full physical endurance test. She failed because she was unable to place a package on a shelf that was too high for her short 5-foot-1 frame. She was fired.

Merritt sued, alleging sex discrimination.

The court heard that many managers and co-workers openly stated that women didn’t belong as truck drivers. That attitude was prevalent up and down the corporate hierarchy. Plus, only Merritt was required to take a physical test after getting a full medical release. It was enough for the court to send the case to trial. (Merritt v. Old Dominion Freight Line, No. 09-1498, 4th Cir., 2010)

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