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'Slut-Shaming' At Work Is Unlawful Gender Discrimination

'Slut-Shaming' At Work Is Unlawful Gender Discrimination

Some women have long had to endure accusations, rumors innuendos that they have “slept” their way to the top by having sex with their bosses.

For years, some courts have held that this conduct did not constitute unlawful gender discrimination because men could be equally subject to the same rumors and false accusations. However, the courts in those cases failed to recognize the obvious reality that women in the workplace are frequently subjected to sex stereotyping to which men are not.

A sea-change has occurred, at least, in the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which encompasses Maryland) through the case of Evangeline J. Parker v. Reema Consulting Services, Inc. Ms. Parker had worked at Reema Consulting’s Virginia warehouse for two years; during that time, she was promoted six times and rose from low-level clerk to Assistant Operations Manager. Within days of becoming the assistant manager, rumors started that Ms. Parker was only promoted because she had been having sexual relations with her boss. The rumor was false but quickly spread. When Ms. Parker tried to stop the rumor from spreading and formally complained about sexual harassment, she was fired.

The trial court ruled against Ms. Parker, saying that men could be subject to the same conduct so there was no discrimination in her case. The Court of Appeals pointedly rejected the trial court and ordered that Ms. Parker be allowed to continue with her case. Three paragraphs of the Court’s decision need to be highlighted for justifying the common-sense result:

As alleged, the rumor was that Parker, a female subordinate, had sex with her male superior to obtain promotion, implying that Parker used her womanhood, rather than her merit, to obtain from a man, so seduced, a promotion. She plausibly invokes a deeply rooted perception — one that unfortunately still persists — that generally women, not men, use sex to achieve success. And with this double standard, women, but not men, are susceptible to being labeled as “sluts” or worse, prostitutes selling their bodies for gain. …

The complaint not only invokes by inference this sex stereotype, it also explicitly alleges that males in the RCSI workplace started and circulated the false rumor about Parker; that, despite Parker and Pickett’s shared tardiness, Parker as a female, not Pickett as a male, was excluded from the all-staff meeting discussing the rumor; that Parker was instructed to have no contact with Jennings, her male antagonist, while Jennings was not removed from Parker’s workplace, allowing him to jeer and mock her; that only Parker, who complained about the rumor, but not Jennings, who also complained of harassment, was sanctioned; and that Parker as the female member of the rumored sexual relationship was sanctioned, but Pickett as the male member was not. …

In short, because “traditional negative stereotypes regarding the relationship between the advancement of women in the workplace and their sexual behavior stubbornly persist in our society,” and “these stereotypes may cause superiors and coworkers to treat women in the workplace differently from men,” it is plausibly alleged that Parker suffered harassment because she was a woman. 

If you believe sexual stereotyping and false rumors have affected you at work, possibly even causing you to lose your job, the experienced lawyers of Leabue & Neuworth may be able to assist you. Please contact us at 888-456-2529 or lebauneuworth.com/contact-us.

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