Sexual discrimination has decreased somewhat in recent years, but it’s still a problem in some workplaces. It isn’t just men against women, either. Sexual discrimination can occur on both sides of the line, and a supervisor or employer can even discriminate against someone of his or her own sex. Essentially, sexual discrimination involves discrimination against an employee on the basis of sexual expectations and gender stereotypes. Here are some of the more common scenarios in which sexual discrimination becomes an issue.

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Actual Discrimination in the Workplace


Actual workplace discrimination based on sex or gender needs to be provable in some fashion. Identifying and remedying sexual discrimination can be challenging because a few derogatory statements or a failure to get a promotion generally aren’t enough to prove the case. Discrimination is easiest to prove if you can show a pattern of behavior that enforces traditional gender stereotypes or recognizes objectively different standards for men and women.

If you believe you are being discriminated against because of your gender, record each instance where this happens. For instance, if your employer refuses to put you on an account because the client prefers working with someone of the opposite gender, you could claim this is a case of sexual discrimination. But remember: you might have a case against your employer, but sexual discrimination is actionable only against your employer and your fellow employees. Clients are not necessarily liable in the same way, and you can’t hold your employer liable for the way clients treat you, unless your employer in some way condones or encourages that behavior.

Sexual Favors and Unwelcome Sexual Statements

Another aspect of sexual discrimination in the workplace revolves around demands for sexual favors. It’s against the law for an employer or fellow employee to demand sexual favors from you in return for a promotion, a good word, or some other benefit. In some cases, it doesn’t have to be an express demand. Unwelcome comments and regular harassing statements of a sexual nature also fall into this category. But you need as much objective proof of the event as possible, since these claims can be difficult to prove.

Performance Standards and Sexual Discrimination

Having objective requirements that one sex can’t necessarily meet as easily as the other doesn’t necessarily equate to discrimination, as long as those requirements relate to the person’s ability to do the job. If the standard is necessary for the business to carry out its practices and maintain its quality level, it can maintain that standard even if it tends to promote hiring one sex over another. A business is practicing sexual discrimination if it states that only women can serve as customer service representatives. It isn’t practicing sexual discrimination if it sets objective, relevant standards that more women than men meet, for instance requiring a higher speaking voice, because higher voices are more easily understood over the phone. To prove sexual discrimination, you have to show that you met those qualifications but were passed over simply because of your gender.

If you believe that you are being discriminated against because of your gender, you need to take action. Classic examples involve differential treatment in the workplace, demands for sexual favors, and unwelcome sexual statements. However, general standards do not, in and of themselves, constitute sexual discrimination, even if one sex is more likely to meet those standards than the other.

If you need help with a sexual discrimination case, it’s best to speak to a lawyer.

Get started Ask an Employment Lawyer a Question You'll hear back in one business day.

Get started Ask an Employment Lawyer a Question You'll hear back in one business day.