What Does Sex Discrimination Look Like?

What Does Sex Discrimination Look Like?

Discrimination manifests itself in varied ways based on the circumstances under which it is present. In housing, discrimination may involve disparate pricing and access for individuals with different immutable characteristics. In education, it may involve either blatant or subtle favoritism of some groups of students over others. In the workplace, discrimination that is legally actionable must meet specific criteria.

Not all sex discrimination is legally actionable. As summarized by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), unlawful sex discrimination in the workplace involves “treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of that person’s sex, including the person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy.”

Identifying Sex Discrimination in the Workplace

As an experienced sex discrimination lawyer – including those who practice at the law firm of Barry P. Goldberg – can confirm, it isn’t always easy to know when the challenges that you’re experiencing at work are legally actionable or not. That’s okay. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of the law in order to explore your legal options. You can schedule a confidential, risk-free consultation with an experienced employment law attorney and ask whether the circumstances that you’re grappling with constitute legally actionable sex discrimination or not.

For example, say that you’re dealing with cat-calling. Cat-calling is, unquestionably, harassment when it occurs on the job. But is it legally actionable? Sexual harassment is, indeed, a kind of sex discrimination. Sexual harassment is broadly defined as unwelcome verbal or physical conduct directed at someone on account of their sex. Whether sexual harassment is actionable or not tends to be a matter of degrees.

If enduring the harassment becomes a condition of your continued employment, it is almost certainly actionable. This would be the case if your boss told you that unless you “sucked it up” and “just deal” with cat-calling in the office, you’ll be fired, that’s actionable. Similarly, if the cat-calling is either so egregious or happens so frequently that a reasonable person would consider your work environment to be abusive, intimidating, or hostile, that situation will almost certainly be actionable too.

Would one-time cat-calling by one ignorant co-worker be actionable sex discrimination? Probably not, unless some other truly egregious behavior or context made it so. Why? The law broadly protects against workplace discrimination but—unacceptably—discrimination is so systemic that if every relatively minor single incident of discriminatory behavior was legally actionable, the U.S. economy would come to a screeching halt.

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