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Bosses: Never justify decisions with sexism

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

It may seem obvious, but that doesn’t mean your managers and supervisors understand it: It’s dumb to make sexist comments. A single sexist remark can mean years of ex­­pensive litigation. The employer may eventually win in court—but not before incurring crippling costs of lost time, money and productivity.

Recent case: Buncombe County employee Melanie’s years of litigation began when her supervisor made a single sexist comment when informing her that she wouldn’t get a temporary, six-month promotion. She said he told her she wasn’t getting the assignment because she was a “young woman.” He added other, more job-related reasons.

Melanie sued, alleging gender discrimination. Her lawsuit demanded at least $14,000 in lost wages over a three-year period, plus attorneys’ fees and payment for her pain and suffering.

Buncombe County argued that, at most, she lost out on $7,000, since the promotion would have lasted just six months. The court first dismissed her case, but she appealed.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated her sex discrimination claim, reasoning that the supervisor’s statement, if true, was direct evidence that Melanie’s gender played a part in the decision not to promote her. That opened the way for a “mixed motive” jury trial in which the county had to show that even if sex was one motivating factor, it wasn’t the decisive one.

Meanwhile, the county offered to settle the case for $15,000. She rejected the offer.

The jury decided that sex was a motivating factor, but also that even if sex hadn’t been considered, the county would still have promoted someone else. In other words, other motives were the more crucial reasons. The jury said Melanie was owed nothing. (Pitrolo v. County of Buncombe, No. 1:06-CV-199, WD NC, 2012)

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