A heterosexual worker was harassed by his supervisor in the form of anti-homosexual taunts. So why did a court rule in the company’s favor?
Superintendent exposed himself to staffer
Kerry Woods worked as a construction worker for Boh Brothers. Shortly after he began, his superintendent:
- began referring to Woods as “princess” and “faggot”
- exposed himself to Woods on a number of occasions, and
- simulated sexual acts by walking up behind him and miming rude actions.
Woods complained, and his co-workers agreed that though Woods wasn’t homosexual or attracted to men, he was the primary victim of his superintendent’s harassment. No action was taken to curb the superintendent’s actions.
After committing a fireable offense, the superintendent told his own boss that he didn’t like Woods and that Woods didn’t fit in.
Woods was suspended for three days without pay and then moved to another crew, though he was eventually laid off for lack of work.
Same-sex harassment and gender stereotyping
Woods turned around and sued, claiming sexual harassment.
A lower court ruled in his favor, but on appeal the decision was overturned.
Why? The court said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that Woods was not masculine.
In other words, Woods couldn’t claim he was treated differently and harassed in the way he claimed unless he could show that he shucked the markings of a stereotypical male.
It all came down to the court’s definitions of same-sex harassment and gender stereotyping, said Maria Greco Danaher of Ogletree Deakins.
Citing a Supreme Court ruling, the court said that same-sex behavior that’s covered by anti-harassment and anti-bias law typically involves homosexual proposals of sexual activity or hostility toward gay people.
Neither of those was present in this case.
The court then turned toward another Supreme Court ruling, and found Woods wasn’t covered there either — Woods was decidedly masculine and conformed to society’s general expectations of his gender.
Without evidence to the contrary, a claim of gender stereotyping couldn’t stand.