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Rumor About Sleeping With the Boss May Be Sex Discrimination

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has revived a claim for sex discrimination made by a woman who believes she was fired because of a rumor that she was sleeping with her boss.
Evangeline Parker worked for Remma Consulting Services Inc. as a low-level clerk. She was promoted on six occasions during her employment, ultimately attaining the position of assistant operations manager. Two weeks into this position, a male employee started telling employees that Parker had a sexual relationship with her manager in order to get her promotion. Another manager said to the promoting manager “hey, you sure your wife ain’t divorcing you because you’re f—king [Parker]?” Soon after, the promoting manager slammed the door in her face at a meeting and locked her out. The staff is alleged to have discussed the rumor about Parker during this meeting. Parker further asserted she was told that she could not be promoted further because of the rumor. Parker was fired after she filed a claim of discrimination.
The federal district court did not see these facts as sex discrimination and dismissed the case. It saw the rumor as based on her alleged conduct and not her gender. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

“As alleged, the rumor was that Parker, a female subordinate, had sex with her male superior to obtain promotion, implying that Parker used her womanhood, rather than her merit, to obtain from a man, so seduced, a promotion. She plausibly invokes a deeply rooted perception—one that unfortunately still persists – that generally women, not men, use sex to achieve success.”

As further evidence of the discrimination inherent in the situation, the court noted only Parker suffered consequences of the rumor; the manager was not sanctioned, and she was the only one excluded from the meeting about the rumor. The court also found Parker had alleged enough continuous conduct to meet the standard of alleging a hostile work environment claim.