In a recent case (Lampley v. Missouri Commission on Human Rights), the Missouri Supreme Court has held that discrimination based on sexual stereotyping violates the Missouri Human Rights Act.
In this case, the plaintiff (a gay man) claimed that his employer had discriminated against him because he “does not exhibit the stereotypical attributes of how a male should appear and behave.” Specifically, he claimed that he was harassed at work because of his “non-stereotypical” behaviors, while male and female employees who were not gay and exhibited stereotypical male or female attributes, were treated differently.
While the Missouri Supreme Court was quick to point out that sexual orientation is not protected under the Missouri Human Rights Act, sexual stereotyping may give rise to an inference of unlawful sex discrimination if the employer took sexual stereotypes into account when making an employment decision.
In reaching this decision, the Missouri Supreme Court relied on the US Supreme Court’s holding in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, where the US Supreme Court recognized when an employer relies upon sex stereotypes in its employment decisions, that evidence may support an inference of sex discrimination.
In Price Waterhouse, a female senior manager was denied partnership after partners referred to her as “macho” and needing “a course at charm school.” She was also advised that to become a partner she needed to “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry.”
The Missouri Supreme Court noted that since Price Waterhouse, it is clear an employer who discriminates against women because they do not wear makeup, is engaging in sex discrimination because the discrimination would not occur but for the victim’s sex; it is clear that Price Waterhouse applies with equal force to a man who is discriminated against for acting too feminine.”
Take Home For Employers
In light of this ruling, Missouri employers need to remember that discrimination based on sex stereotyping is unlawful in Missouri and should take steps to ensure that their managers and supervisors receive training about the prohibition.