Sex Discrimination in the Workplace

by on December 12, 2008 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Gender specific job requirements

Sarah Werrin tapped impatiently at her boss’s door and then barged in. “Our new policy for dressing up at work is sex discrimination. It’s degrading and sexist,” she said.
“And if you or anyone at corporate thinks I’m going along with it, you are out of your testosterone-charged minds.”

The new policy, aimed at food-service employees who deal directly with the public, said female servers had to wear facial makeup. Alex cleared his throat. “Now hold on a second,” he said, “I don’t think it’s against the law to require female employees to look their best.”

Women degraded, not men

“Oh, right,” Sarah snapped sarcastically. “Women have to wear makeup and dress up like Barbie dolls, but men aren’t allowed to wear makeup, even if they want to. That’s crazy. That wasn’t a requirement when I signed on, and I’m not going to start wearing makeup now.

You talk to any woman working here, and she’ll agree this policy is totally unfair to women.”

“I disagree,” said Alex. “The policy addresses both men and women. Male employees who deal with the public have to meet standards for their dress and their hair. The standards are different, but they’re equal.”

“No way,” said Sarah. “I’ve spoken with male and female co-workers. Women say it’s demeaning to have to wear makeup on the job. But the guys aren’t degraded by the new policy. That makes it sex discrimination.”

Alex told Sarah she had three options: She could wear her makeup, she could apply for a transfer to a position that didn’t require makeup or she could lose her job.

“I’m not wearing makeup and I’m not putting in for a transfer,” she said.

Alex sighed. “Then I have no choice.”

After getting fired, Sarah filed a sex discrimination lawsuit. Did she win?

The decision

Sarah lost her sex discrimination lawsuit. A court ruled in favor of the employer because the new appearance standards imposed equal burdens on both sexes.

Although women were required to wear makeup and men were forbidden to wear it, the court looked beyond facial cosmetics in deciding this case. At this company, men and women were required to dress and groom themselves in specific ways to enhance the employer’s image and brand.

Different requirements

In reaching its decision, the court considered the time and cost necessary for employees of each sex to comply with the guidelines. And it rejected Sarah’s assertion that the makeup requirement for women was the only meaningful comparison.

If women had been ordered to dress in a certain way, style their hair according to the company’s dictates and wear makeup, but men were given carte blanche to appear however they wanted, that would have constituted sex discrimination. But in this case, men and women simply had different requirements.

This case clarifies an employer’s ability to maintain gender-specific standards provided the burdens placed on men and women are equal.

Cite: Jesperson v. Harrah’s Operating Co., Inc., U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, No. 03-15045, 12/28/04. Fictionalized for dramatic effect

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