A jury in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Iowa recently returned a verdict in excess of $50,000 to a female plaintiff alleging sex discrimination based upon gender stereotypes. The plaintiff, who was a night auditor at a hotel, claimed she was terminated because she was more masculine than a typical female employee. She described herself as “slightly more masculine”; she preferred to wear loose fitting clothing as well as men’s button down shirts and slacks.
There was evidence a manager for the employer made statements that its front desk staff should be “pretty” and have a “Midwestern” girl look.
The trial court had previously granted summary judgment to the defendant on the grounds that the plaintiff presented no evidence she was treated differently than similarly situated male employees. However, the Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded for a new trial, holding that it was wrong to require a sex discrimination plaintiff to rely solely upon evidence showing the treatment of similarly situated male employees. (See our post here discussing the Eighth Circuit opinion).
Notably, the jury found for the plaintiff only on her claim of retaliation, not gender discrimination. Thus, even though the case was remanded to the trial court because of the gender discrimination claim, that is not how the plaintiff established liability. We noted in our previous post that the Eighth Circuit’s decision expanded the boundaries of gender discrimination liability for employers. Even though the jury did not find gender discrimination, the fact that the plaintiff prevailed on any ground is likely to encourage more gender stereotyping claims of this type.