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Workplace Discrimination Based on Gender Stereotyping


If you have not heard of systemic discrimination, that term refers to a consistent pattern, practice or policy that results in an adverse impact on an entire industry, profession, company or geographic area. Examples of systemic practices include discriminatory obstacles in recruitment and hiring; discriminatorily restricted access to management trainee programs or high-level jobs; and the exclusion of qualified women from traditionally male-dominated fields. This article will discuss some of these issues in the employment context.

Have the Courts Considered the Issue of Sex or Gender Stereotyping?

First, it requires mentioning that discrimination based on sex stereotyping is not the same as sexual orientation, which refers to discriminating against someone because of their sexual preferences or their sexual identity. Instead, the term refers to bias based on assumptions about how a certain gender is supposed to behave or appear. The U.S. Supreme Court first discussed sex stereotyping as a form of sex discrimination in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989), where the plaintiff alleged that she was denied partnership because she did not conform to the expected feminine stereotypes. Despite being praised for her job performance, she was criticized for her “aggressiveness,” which they perceived more as “abrasiveness.” On the other hand, these characteristics were not perceived as negative in terms of the male employees. In that case, the court held that an employer cannot “evaluate employees by assuming or insisting that they matched the stereotype associated with their group.”

The Distinction Between Sex Stereotyping and Sexual Orientation

In a case out of the Third Circuit, sex stereotyping of male employees was discussed where an “effeminate” male employee who did not fit in with the other more masculine male employees was allegedly subjected to harassment. He claimed that male co-workers called him “princess” and “Rosebud,” among other more derogatory names. The employer tried to argue that the employee’s claims were simply cleverly pleaded sexual orientation discrimination, which most courts have held is not covered under federal law. In that Third Circuit case, however, the court held that the claim was actually based on the employee’s perceived failure to “conform to [the defendant’s] vision of how a man should look, speak, and act,” rather than his sexual orientation.

Sex Stereotyping in the Workplace

Sex stereotyping is a common factor in sex discrimination in the workplace. Whenever an employer uses stereotypes that are typically associated with a particular gender in assessing employee performance or a job applicant’s fitness for a job, that is considered sex stereotyping. This is particularly troublesome when employers use sex stereotyping in punishing employees who might not demonstrate the expected stereotypical appearance or behavior.

Studies Suggest that High Performing Women Have More Difficulty Advancing

A recent study published in the American Sociological Review examined another characteristic of sex stereotyping that may lead to workplace gender discrimination. According to the study, employers tend to associate traits such as intelligence and confidence with men as opposed to women, and those women who do possess those traits are seen in a more negative light. For example, there is evidence that high-achieving female job applicants, those with exceptional academic credentials, are less likely to be called in for interviews, much less offered high-level positions. These employment decisions may well be the basis for gender discrimination. If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!

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