The final employment law lesson from this season of Vanderpump Rules touches on an important and often misunderstood type of discrimination – gender stereotyping. This season we saw the SURvers go on a joint bachelor/bachelorette trip where the men dressed up as women and the women hired a female stripper. This prompted one of the women, who is serving as a groomsman, to claim that this party was redefining traditional gender roles and what it means to be a man and a woman. That statement was more loaded than she probably even knows.
Gender related discrimination claims are emerging as one of the top employee lawsuits of our time. There is a constant push in courts across the country to interpret Title VII to include protections against gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination. While those issues remain in flux across various appeals courts, the U.S. Supreme Court has long held that gender stereotyping is actionable as sex discrimination.
So what exactly is gender stereotyping in the context of Title VII? It’s discriminating against an employee because he or she does not dress, walk, talk, act, conform, etc. to what members of that employee’s gender typically do. It’s a supervisor calling a male iron worker a “pu--y” “princess” and “fa--ot” and calling his use of towelettes instead of toilet paper “kind of gay” and “feminine.” (EEOC v. Boh Bros. Construction Co). It’s a female employee denied partnership because she “needed a course in charm school” to learn how to “walk…talk…and dress more femininely,” “have her hair styled” and “wear jewelry.” (Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins). These examples are helpful to explain gender stereotyping, but not all cases will be so obvious.
Employers need to be careful in creating a culture where employees are treated with respect and employment decisions are based primarily on a person’s ability to do the job. Gender stereotyping can be subtle. For example: hiring a female secretary who wears makeup over a woman who doesn’t is not simply choosing the person with a more professional appearance. Assuming that the other woman is equally clean and kempt, it is discriminating against the non-makeup wearer based on a gender stereotype.
It is important that employers understand gender stereotyping and take action to prevent it in the workplace. Put policies in place that protect against gender discrimination and train your employees and supervisors on proper conduct. Most importantly, keep your finger on the pulse of your employees and put an immediate and effective stop to any type of harassment or discrimination. Remember that as the employer, you are ultimately responsible for what you know or should know is happening in your workplace.