With the announcement of Gretchen Carlson’s (and, subsequently, several other female employees’) complaints about Fox News head Roger Ailes and his ensuing resignation, sexual harassment has recently been in the news. Although Ailes’ conduct somehow slipped under Fox’s radar, most other employers know that employee complaints about sexual harassment are a serious matter that must be promptly investigated. And most, if not all, of you have a sexual harassment policy that includes strong language assuring employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment, you will act quickly to eliminate inappropriate conduct, and anyone found to have violated your sexual harassment policy will be subject to prompt discipline. However, having such a policy does little good if stereotypes about what sexual harassment “looks like” stop employees and supervisors from recognizing—or reporting—it.
Modern perceptions of sexual harassment generally bring to mind a female victim and a male perpetrator. However, like Jennifer Aniston in “Horrible Bosses,” a sexual harasser can be female, too. And as the recent lawsuit against Elton John shows, sexual harassment can happen between people of the same gender, regardless of the harasser’s or the victim’s sexual orientation.
We typically think of sex discrimination and sexual harassment as involving two employees of the opposite sex, but that unlawful activity can occur between employees of the same sex, too. Although federal law doesn’t explicitly recognize gender identity or sexual orientation as protected characteristics, several states and cities have passed ordinances prohibiting adverse action on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Additionally, in its 2013-16 Strategic Enforcement Plan, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) emphasized the emerging issue of LGBT rights in the workplace.
A brief overview of the law
The law regarding the rights of transgender employees is evolving, with a clear trend toward the recognition and protection of the rights of transgender individuals. Just five years ago, employers in the United States likely would not have considered whether transgender employees were protected by federal employment laws. At most, employers would have considered whether state or local laws extended protections to transgender employees. However, the global community has been active regarding the protection of transgender employees’ rights in the workplace, and now it seems that the federal government is on track to join that trend.
I keep waiting for the day that employment discrimination claims disappear. We spend a ton of time training employees to prevent and avoid discriminatory conduct, and the proper behavior is pretty intuitive. So, logically, employment discrimination should have been eradicated, like polio and smallpox.
It would be terrible for my business if discrimination cases went away because defending them is much of what I do. But no worries―there isn’t much chance of employment discrimination disappearing. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received about 100,000 charges in 2012, up from 75,000 in 2005. Religious discrimination is the fastest- growing category of charges, fed by a rising fear of those who practice Islam and the misplaced view that, unlike race or sex, a person can just change religion. The EEOC is putting extra enforcement effort into that area. read more…
Let’s turn the clock back 50 years to the days before Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sex discrimination was a constant, and sexual harassment was so prevalent that it wasn’t yet a term of art. The notion that a woman had the right to a workplace free from sexist comments or unequal treatment was nothing short of bizarre. Work life as portrayed on Mad Men was pretty much the norm.
Do you know how gender discrimination found its way into Title VII? The bill was originally designed to cover discrimination based on race and national origin. Opponents allowed gender to be added as a protected class, thinking it would kill the bill. Much to their surprise, Title VII passed―sexual harassment prohibitions and all. read more…
In many situations, it is relatively easy to understand what constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex. For instance, you cannot refuse to hire an applicant because she is a woman or treat a female employee differently from a male employee because of her sex. The legal requirements become more uncertain, however, when an employee claims you engaged in unlawful sex stereotyping, as one Virginia employer recently learned.