March 30, 2023

Beware the Risks of Rude Remarks

On March 30, 2023, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit seeking myriad damages for alleged sex discrimination based on remarks made to a transgender male employee. Allegations include and are not limited to:

  • one of the owners made “intentional, frequent, and repeated unwelcome and offensive remarks” to the employee about his transgender status;
  • owners and employees asked questions about the employee’s genitalia;
  • owners and employees intentionally misgendered the employee, refused to accept his name, and continued to use female pronouns.

In addition, the EEOC alleges the employer had no process in place for report workplace harassment, did not train employees on how to report harassment, and failed to train managers on how to respond to complaints of workplace harassment.

Lessons Learned. Regardless of the outcome of the case, the bottom-line is the rude remarks created legal liability for the employer, subjecting it to time and costs for defending the claims.  Workplace civility and respect are not only proactive practices, but they also lay the foundation for positive employee relations. Mean, rude, snarky remarks do not belong in the workplace. Cut it out. Managers and business owners need to lead by example. Do not engage in idle gossip or speculation about a person’s gender identity. It is none of your business and is unrelated to a person’s ability to perform the essential functions of your job.

NOTE: The lawsuit was filed under Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, as well as the better-known Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Why?  Likely because the former amended the latter, providing for punitive and compensatory damages against employers, giving plaintiffs the right to a jury trial, and to collect damages.