When you think of gender discrimination, you most likely imagine a powerful man in a three-piece suit looking down on his female secretary. Or maybe you think of the hostile work environment created when pornography is found on the factory floor. But what about when the victim is a man?
What does male gender discrimination look like?
In this blog post, I will answer the question of whether men are protected under Title VII. I will review what male gender discrimination looks like, who may cause it, and what options a man facing a hostile work environment has.
The federal anti-discrimination law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, protects against unequal treatment based on a person's sex or gender (among other traits). The victim of that illegal conduct can be a man or a woman -- the law does not discriminate. No matter the gender of the victim, it is unlawful for an employer or potential employer to use a person's gender as a basis for decisions connected to:
An employer is also required to take reasonable steps to respond to complaints of gender discrimination by its supervisors, managers, employees, and even customers. If the conduct is severe or frequent enough that a reasonable person would be made uncomfortable, an employee -- male or female -- may be able to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or in federal court.
Gender discrimination against men can be as serious, and as varied, as it is against women. Any biased employment decisions or sexually hostile work environment can be the basis for a male gender discrimination complaint. But because men are as a whole less likely to discuss their experiences, it can be difficult to know if what you are facing at work counts as male gender discrimination. Here are a few examples of what that might look like:
In December 2017, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, the Kansas City Star reported a decade-old sexual harassment allegation against local Democratic Candidate for Congress, Andrea Ramsey. Ramsey was a vice president of human resources at the time of the alleged gender discrimination. She was said to have made "unwelcome and inappropriate sexual comments and innuendos" toward a male subordinate, Gary Funkhouser. When he refused those advances, he was fired. When women bosses approach male employees, connecting sexual requests to job performance, it is often illegal male gender discrimination.
While men have traditionally been the wage-earners in most families, and are known to hold a disproportionate percentage of executive positions, there are certain industries and jobs where women have historically held the power. Teachers, nurses, and child care providers, for example, can sometimes face male gender discrimination because of their sex or gender. This could cause them to be passed over for employment or promotion or receive worse performance reviews because they do not conform to gender stereotypes connected to the industry. When men are treated worse than women doing the same job, it can sometimes be male gender discrimination.
Also in 2017, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against a tourism company based on same-sex sexual harassment. The president of the company was alleged to recruit young men for his companies and then sexually harass them by:
Employees complained about the president's behavior, but were forced to quit or faced retaliation rather than receiving any meaningful response. When a male superior demands sexual conduct of his male employees, it is illegal sexual harassment, and likely criminal sexual assault.
In other cases, the male gender discrimination doesn't stand alone. In late 2017, the EEOC sued Golden Corral because its employees were harassing a disabled dishwasher with high-functioning autism. An assistant manager at the restaurant requested oral sex and sexually assaulted the disabled worker in addition to harassment based on his disability. When employees target coworkers with sexual conduct and jokes, even when connected to a person's disability, it can amount to illegal male gender discrimination.
Men also face gender discrimination when they don't fit into stereotypes about their gender. For example, in Wildhaber v St. Louis County, MO, a police officer sued for male gender discrimination. He was passed over for promotion because he needed to "tone down [his] gayness" and act more like a man. When a man is passed over for employment advancement because his sexuality, appearance, or behavior does not fit male stereotypes, it can be illegal male gender discrimination.
Another form of male gender discrimination happens when men are refused family leave available to women after the birth or adoption of a new child. In EEOC v Estee Lauder Companies, Inc., the EEOC sued because the makeup company did not give men access to the same parental leave benefits available to women. When company policy treats men and women differently in awarding benefits or family leave, it may be a form of gender discrimination.
Many men are hesitant to say anything in the face of gender discrimination. They may be concerned that a complaint will make them seem less "manly" or believe that they should just "man up" and deal with the harassment. But men have just the same right to be free from a sexually hostile work environment as women.
If you have been the victim of male gender discrimination, the first step is to object. You can simply tell the person offending you to stop, file a formal complaint with your HR department or union, or go outside your office to the EEOC or federal court. The steps you take depend on the size of your company, whether you belong to a union, and the nature of your complaint.
But you don't have to do it alone. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our sexual harassment attorneys know what male gender discrimination looks like, and how to stop it. We will help you collect your documents, file the necessary claims, and represent you in court. Contact us to schedule a consultation.