Court rules calling women “sensitive flowers” shows gender bias

Court rules calling women “sensitive flowers” shows gender bias

A woman in New York City brought a claim of gender discrimination. She alleged that her supervisor insulted and excluded her, concealed information from her, and denied her requests for a raise. Were these decisions based on gender bias?

The court found her supervisor made numerous statements that reflected gender bias including, “You women are such sensitive flowers”; he “only supports humble and meek women”; the woman was “in your face”; he would “probably” treat male employees differently, including by preparing them for advancement; and his admission that his perception of the woman as “a smart confident accomplished woman with an opinion might be the reason for [his] harsh treatment of her.”

Comments are gender bias, not petty slights

The court held that her supervisor’s alleged remarks rose above the level of nonactionable petty slights or inconveniences, and established differential treatment.

She also won on retaliation. The court found that after she complained, her supervisor took away her responsibility for hiring support staff and her ability to use such staff as a resource, excluded her from projects, ignored and hid information from her, publicly undermined her, and took away her planning responsibilities for two annual conferences. He also threatened her that he would “make the situation worse” if she continued to complain.

The case is O’Rourke v National Foreign Trade Council, Inc., decided by the New York Appellate Division, First Department, on October 17, 2019

Employer responsibility to stop gender bias

This case technically applies only to employers in the City of New York. However, courts everywhere, including Hawaii, are likely to take a similar approach. That means all employers need to be clear that gender bias violates their policies. Employers should provide training not only on preventing sexual harassment, but also eliminating gender bias. That training needs to include examples like the ones in this case so everyone knows what kinds of comments are prohibited.

We cover gender bias in our programs on preventing harassment, bullying and disrespect.

By R. Makana Risser Chai

Makana Risser Chai is a trainer, HR consultant and former Silicon Valley attorney who specializes in teaching courses on creating respectful workplaces by preventing harassment, bullying, disrespect, and unconscious bias.