Don’t Make Fun of the Guy Wearing Pastel Shirts

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard other guys give a male wearing a pastel shirt a hard time about his “feminine” color choice, but employers might be more apt to snuff out such joking after a recent decision by the Eastern District of California where the court held that, among other things, that calling a male worker’s pastel shirts “girly” was evidence of sex stereotyping.  Although this decision was rendered in California where the notoriously liberal Ninth Circuit has already recognized harassment and discrimination rooted in sex stereotyping as an actionable Title VII claim, the court’s message should cause all employers to worry about whether they are doing enough to create a work environment free of sex-based harassment. 

Indeed, in the matter of Felix v. Cal. Dep’t of Developmental Servs., two special investigators with California’s Department of Developmental Services alleged that they were subjected to years of coworkers’ derogatory name calling and pranks.  The plaintiffs sued under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.  The alleged harassment consisted of, among other things: (1) coworkers joking that one of the plaintiffs dressed in “girly” clothes because he wore pink, lavender, and soft blue colored shirts; (2) coworkers making references to one of the plaintiffs and a male coworker having nipple rings and piercings on their penises that were chained together; and (3)   coworkers sending one of the plaintiffs yellow balloons with a card claiming that he had a secret admirer, which was intended to imply that he was a homosexual because an openly gay male co-worker’s favorite color was yellow.    

The court found that calling a male employee’s clothes “girly” and implying that he had a sexual relationship with male co-workers demonstrated plausible sex-based harassment under Title VII and the FEHA.  This decision should cause employers to question whether they are doing enough to eliminate potential harassment claims from the workplace.  The attorneys at Harmon & Davies are here to assist employers with such matters. 

This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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