Gender discrimination is protected against by a variety of different federal and Minnesota statutes, in particular, Title VII of the civil rights act, the Pregnancy and Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims under the Federal Title VII and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) are governed by the same standards.  Pye v. Nu Aire, Inc., 641 F.3d 1011 (Minn. 2011). Gender discrimination can encompass a variety of different scenarios and the specific elements can vary significantly from case to case.

The Supreme Court has described Title VII as being intended to “strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women resulting from stereotypes. For example, in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 251, 109 S. Ct. 1775, 1791, 104 L. Ed. 2d 268 (1989) (citations omitted).

Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 251, 109 S. Ct. 1775, 1791, 104 L. Ed. 2d 268 (1989) (citations omitted).

Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 251 (1989) an accounting firm denied partnership to a female candidate in part because she was seen as “overly aggressive.” The court found that this was discriminatory in that “an employer who objects to aggressiveness in women but whose positions require this trait places women in an intolerable and impermissible catch 22: out of a job if they behave aggressively and out of a job if they do not. Title VII lifts women out of this bind.”

Courts have grappled with the question of whether different appearance and grooming standards for men and women is gender discrimination. Generally, standards that “appropriately differentiate between the genders” are upheld, while standards that create an unequal burden for one gender are held to be discriminatory. In Jespersen v. Harrah’s, the Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiff, a bartender at Harrah’s casino, had not established that the casino’s appearance policy imposed a greater burden on women than men. Jespersen challenged the casino’s requirement that its female employees wear makeup, arguing that women had to spend more money and time complying with the requirement than men. The court rejected Jespersen’s claim because she did not submit any evidence supporting this argument, but did not foreclose the possibility that such evidence could have demonstrated that the policy imposed a greater burden on women.

Whether romantically motivated favoritism is a form of discrimination against the non-favored employees is an unresolved matter. The Eighth Circuit has held that an employer’s stated reason for termination­—that he had to choose between his best employee (with whom the employer had had an affair) and his marriage—was not direct evidence of sex discrimination. Instead, that reason merely indicated the employer’s desire to put his wife’s concerns regarding his sexually-charged relationship with the employee to rest.

An employer might take a variety of different actions for reasons that might constitute gender discrimination. If you believe you have been treated differently or unfairly because of your gender, you should contact an attorney to discuss your options.

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