Wednesday, October 9, 2013

It’s time to end sexual orientation & gender identity discrimination

There is currently legislation pending in both the Ohio House [H.B. 163] and Ohio Senate [S.B. 125] that would include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of classes from which employees are protected from discrimination by their employers. Notably, the bills protect both actual and perceived sexuality and gender-related appearance:

  • “Sexual orientation” = “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.”
  • “Gender identity” = “the gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated gender at birth.”

If Ohio Revised Code chapter 4112 is amended to include these protections, then harassment of employees based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity become illegal. In that case, the line-splitting in which courts have engaged under the rubric of “same-sex harassment” will largely become a relic.

Case in point? EEOC v. Boh Brothers Construction Co. (5th Cir. 9/30/13). The facts of this case are horrific. It’s worth a read to understand just how cruel employees can be to each other. Yet, the case split 10-6 on whether the facts supported claim of sexual harassment. One of the two dissents envisioned a world in which employers would have to distribute “etiquette memos” to purge the workplace of speech and gestures that might be viewed in any way as tokens of sex discrimination. I’ve reprinted the court’s very tongue-in-cheek example below.

The dissent is exaggerating to make its point that Title VII was never meant to be a general civility code, and only the worst type of sex-based behavior is meant to trigger the statute.

Exaggerations aside, the time has come for Congress (when the federal government is back in business), along with all 50 state legislatures, to step up to the plate and end this debate. Enact legislation including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, and bring to and end the shameful protection of discrimination against this marginalized class of individuals.


MEMO TO: Management FROM: Legal Department of Apex Co. DATE: September 2013

In keeping up with the newest developments in employment law, we have carefully reviewed and hired specialist outside counsel to give us a legal opinion concerning the implications of a recent Fifth Circuit en banc decision. EEOC v. Boh Bros. . . . Like us, the employer in that case engaged in heavy construction and often operated in all-male crews. Like us, it had an unblemished record, years without a Title VII case. But the court ruled that common sexual epithets and vulgar gestures, when used too frequently by a male, heterosexual supervisor, can support a verdict against the company on behalf of another male, heterosexual plaintiff. Instead of looking on these actions as horseplay or, at worst, bullying, the court approved a jury verdict for “gender-stereotyping harassment.” The EEOC intends to make this case an example for similar workplaces.

We need not advise you of the costs a company can incur in these cases. In addition to hundreds of thousands in outside legal fees, a judgment for damages may run into six figures. The EEOC requested, and got, a sweeping and intrusive injunction that will require significant expenditures in paperwork compliance costs and regular workplace sensitivity training for over one thousand employees.

To avert these consequences, we recommend that the company immediately issue the following rules for proper, non-gender-stereotyping workplace behavior. Employees should be informed that the rules apply across the board, to all-male, all-female, and mixed-sex offices and positions. The workplace must be cleansed of speech and actions that may be misperceived or twisted as reflecting gender stereotyping harassment.


To our Associates:

You are all aware of this company’s unwavering policy to prevent discrimination of any kind based on sex, race, religion or national origin. Because of a new court decision, we must now focus on eliminating same-sex “gender stereotyping” of any kind as well. This means that men may expose this company to liability for their speech and behavior in the presence of other men, and women in the presence of other women. Although these rules will apply throughout the company, you IRONWORKERS have to take special notice. The rules apply throughout the workday, during breaks and lunch hours, and whenever two or more workers are gathered together.
1. At the most general level, all employees must refrain from any communication—spoken, written, or gesticulated—that may create any suggestion of “sexual stereotyping” or “gender-based bullying.” Please consider the broad implications of this prohibition, some of which follow. All employee interactions must be fully gender inclusive (or at least gender ambiguous). Careless phrases and jokes will not be tolerated if they may be interpreted to carry a stereotyping overtone.
2. No more banter about bodily functions, sexual or otherwise, or human physical appearance. Those who do not enjoy references to sweat, toilet humor, tattoos, tight jeans, muscles, or large beards may feel singled out as not “man enough” for such speech.
3. Do not discuss the appearance of women or any intimate sexual encounters, and do not refer to or use words that refer to sex in any way. This includes CUSS WORDS.
4. Do not swivel your hips, make obscene gestures or mimic “twerking.”
5. Avoid discussing topics that may be viewed as “non-inclusive”: bodybuilding, Boy Scouts, hunting, fishing, and riflery. Football and other “macho” sports may be an unwelcome subject to those who consider them boorishly aggressive.
6. Do not engage in any competitive activity, like lifting heavy objects, on the worksite. This can create a sense of unmanly inferiority for non-participants.
7. Do not use gender-stereotyped nicknames or name-calling. Supervisors may not encourage you to work harder by saying “put your backs into it,” or “man up,” and terms like “ladies” or “sissies” will be grounds for immediate discipline.
8. Schoolyard humor, which is common at our jobsites to fill down-times and relieve boredom, raises sensitive issues. Some workers may be put off by jokes about personal grooming, scented deodorant, chest hair, or clothing as a form of gender hostility. Poking fun at a worker for drinking a diet soda, not being able to eat a raw jalapeno, using “Wet Ones” or “Purell” to clean himself, or calling someone a “wimp” or “wuss” or “geek” may get us sued and you in serious trouble.
9. Asinine locker room behavior is forbidden. Examples of this would be comments about anatomy, crude gestures, actions like towel-swatting, simulated sexual acts, and any behavior that would make someone ill at ease with his personal expression of his gender. Relieving yourself in the presence of others is forbidden; the company is reconfiguring all restrooms to prevent any worker from observing another worker’s bodily functions.
10. Avoid touching any coworker in any manner, except if asked to rescue the person from physical danger, and even then, avoid touching private areas.

PENALTIES: A first violation of these rules will result in a warning, a second violation in suspension without pay, and successive violations will result in termination. We will not call this a “three-strikes” policy, as that term might be interpreted to refer to the principally male sport of baseball. We need hardly explain that any worker terminated for same-sex gender stereotyping will have a hard time finding future employment.

The Company will conduct quarterly sensitivity sessions, where you can learn more about offensive gender stereotyping against fellow males and what you can do to prevent or correct it. As questions arise at any time, call our newly hired Sex Stereotype Counselor in the HR Department.