The faces of the #MeToo movement have been women from across the country who have faced sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the hands of the men they worked for. But that’s not the only way female employees can be disadvantaged at work. Find out what woman to woman gender discrimination looks like, and what you can do when it happens.
State and federal laws prevent employers from discriminating against their employees for inherent traits like sex and gender. The New York State Human Rights Act and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act each protect employees against sexual harassment and gender discrimination at work. Specifically, the laws say that your employer, manager, or supervisor can’t make employment decisions based on your actual or perceived sex or gender. That could include:
The laws also protect against sexual harassment that can happen at work. They make it illegal for your boss to offer employment opportunities in exchange for sexual favors. They also require employers to investigate, respond to, and take reasonable steps to prevent sexualized behavior between coworkers.
All those protections are gender-neutral in the statutes. It doesn’t matter who is doing the discrimination, or who their target is, male or female. While the most iconic cases involve powerful men using their power to discriminate against or harass less powerful women, the truth is that same-gender discrimination happens all the time. When it does, the same laws apply and employees can receive the same compensation, whether the person behaving badly is a man or a woman.
Woman to woman gender discrimination is less likely to take on a “quid pro quo” character. While it can certainly happen, in most cases, women who discriminate against their female employees aren’t as likely to be looking for sexual favors in exchange for business perks. Instead, most same-sex gender discrimination preys on the stereotypes and assumptions the female boss or coworker has about how women can and should do their jobs. This could include:
Same-gender sex discrimination may also sometimes include assumptions about a woman’s family status or duties to her children. For example:
Same-gender sexual harassment may be even more common than other forms of gender discrimination. This kind of behavior can happen on the workshop floor between coworkers, or it can pass from employer to employee. Woman to woman sexual harassment could look like:
With all these different ways women can discriminate against other women, it may feel like there’s nothing you can do to level the playing field at work. But remember, the law says that not only is your employer prohibited from discriminating against you for being a woman, it must take reasonable steps to respond to and prevent gender discrimination and sexual harassment at work.
That means the first step to stopping woman to woman gender discrimination is to report it. Object to the offensive jokes or the discriminatory work schedule -- in writing if you can. Make a scene. Stand up for your right to wear pants (according to your company dress code) or to not wear makeup. Say no to the sexually explicit emails and invitations.
And then send it up the line. File a formal complaint with your supervisor or human resources department -- again in writing -- and follow up. Make them do their job to respond to the complaints. If they don’t, its time to talk to an employment discrimination attorney.
You can enforce your right to a discrimination-free workplace by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or in state or federal court. Which route is your best option will depend on what happened, where it happened, who your employer is, and what state you work in.
At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our sexual harassment attorneys will help you collect your documents, plan your best strategy, file the necessary claims, and represent you in court. Contact us to schedule a consultation. We stand up for you against sexual harassment and gender discrimination, even when the boss is a woman.