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Sexual favoritism must be pervasive

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

While under some circumstances, so-called sexual favoritism may be grounds for a winning sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit, it takes more than a single office romance or a marriage between a supervisor and subordinate to support such a claim.

Recent case: Angela, who worked as a psychologist, sued her employer, alleging sex discrimination and sexual harassment.

Her supervisor was married to Angela’s co-worker, which formed the basis for her main complaint: that, “job benefits, accolades, preferential duty assignments and compensation” were provided to the supervisor’s wife while denied to other employees who were not married to the supervisor.

Angela also claimed that the same supervisor once pulled her aside and asked whether she was having an extramarital affair with another co-worker. She denied the accusation and cited the questioning as further evidence she was being discriminated against on the basis of sex.

The court tossed out Angela’s lawsuit. It did note that in some circumstances, constant requests for sex, along with sexual relationships at work that include favoritism for the employees who agree to a romantic or sexual relationship could add up to a sexually hostile work environment. However, the court said that was not the case here.

That a supervisor might favor his wife was perhaps unfair, but not sex discrimination or a hostile work environment based on sex. And a single question about a sexual relationship wasn’t enough to create a hostile environment. (Cristanto v. County of Tulare, No. 1:15-CV-01527, ED CA, 2015)

Final note: Of course, you want to discourage nepotism and favoritism based on close personal relationships. Consider making sure that married or dating couples aren’t in a direct supervisor/subordinate role. It may not be sex discrimination, but it’s not good for morale.

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