Sex Discrimination - Stereotyping The Male Accused of Sexual Harassment

A man accused of sexual harassment and stereotyped by his employer as guilty because he was male can sue for sex discrimination the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently in Sassman v. Gamache, No. 07-2721 (May 22, 2009).

Sassaman was accused by a co-worker of sexual harassment. She made a formal complaint and a criminal investigation by the local sheriff found insufficient evidence for a criminal charge. Nonetheless, after Brant hired a lawyer, Sassaman was told he would be fired based on the following: "I really don't have any choice. [Brant] knows a lot of attorneys; I'm afraid she'll sue me. And besides you probably did what she said you did because you're male and nobody would believe you anyway."

Sassaman sued for sex discrimination, claiming that he was terminated "on the basis of sex stereotyping." The district court threw his case out of court, ruling that he could not prove any sex discrimination.

The Second Circuit reinstated Sassaman's sex discrimination claim. First, the court observed that discrimination could be proved by the employer's invidious comments about others in the employee's protected group or the sequence of events leading to the employee's discharge.  Sassaman met this standard by evidence that (1) he was accused as "probably" guilty because he was "male" and, (2) the failure to properly investigate the sexual harassment charge against him. Second, the court reiterated the Supreme Court's admonition in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins: "we are beyond the day when an employer could evaluate employees by assuming or insisting that they matched the stereotype associated with their group."

The Court also rejected the employer's claim that fear of a lawsuit from Brant justified Sassman's firing. "Fear of a lawsuit," the court asserted, "does not justify an employee's reliance on sex stereotypes to resolve allegations of sexual harassment, discriminating against the accused employee in the process." The court further added that Title VII "requires that, in the course of investigating such claims, employers do not presume male employees to be 'guilty until proven innocent' based on invidious sex stereotypes.

This appears to be the first appellate court decision recognizing that an employer's firing of a man accused of sexual harassment based on the stereotypical assumption that he was probably guilty violates the prohibitions against sex discrimination. If you have been discriminated against in your employment, contact Lexington, Kentucky employment lawyer Robert L. Abell toll free at 866-578-5302 or at 859-254-7076.