Human Resources News & Insights

Psst: Telling female employee she’s ‘not that pretty’ isn’t a great management move

Recipe for a really tasty lawsuit: Take manager’s remarks to a female employee that she’s “not that pretty,” and that other women in her position were “just gorgeous” and donned “tight sweaters” and “short skirts” in the workplace. Mix in a refusal to pay accrued vacation and sick time, and after the employee files a complaint with the local Department of Labor, fire her.  

The end result is a dish employers will find unpalatable: A trial on charges of age and sex discrimination.

Here’s a quick look at the details:

Elke Tober-Purze was an over-40 city attorney in Evanston, IL. She received two promotions during her first five years on the job, and consistently positive performance reviews.

But things apparently weren’t all roses in the Evanston legal department. Tober-Purze said one supervisor told her that she was “not that pretty,”; another said other attorneys on staff were “smart … good looking … just gorgeous … [and wore] tight sweaters” and “short skirts.”

Another city official told Tober-Purze and her colleagues, “It’s all been downhill since women got the vote.” Supervisors also banned magazines aimed at female attorneys.

At about the seven year mark in her employment, she asked to be paid for nearly 452 hours of  accrued vacation pay. Her supervisor summarily informed her that she wouldn’t be paid for 135 of those hours, and warned her “not to get anyone involved” in the matter.

Tober-Purze filed a complaint  with the Illinois Department of Labor. Three days later, she was terminated.

The city then notified her she would lose 400 hours of accrued sick pay because she hadn’t given proper notice before she left her employment with Evanston — a requirement that would have been difficult, indeed, to fulfill, since she was summarily terminated.

Tober-Purze also claimed that the city had instituted a policy of replacing older staff attorneys with under-40 males. The city hired two women — both at least 15 years younger than Tober-Purze — to replace her.

The case goes on

From the foregoing, you may have gotten the feeling the employer wasn’t going to fare well in this court proceeding. You’d be correct.

The judge denied Evanston’s motion for summary judgment and allowed Tober-Purze’s case to continue, saying she’d shown enough evidence that she’d been discriminated against — both on account of her gender and her age — for the matter to go before a jury.

And you know what that means — either a long, expensive court battle or an expensive settlement.

The case is Tober-Purze v. City of Evanston.

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