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Tenth Circuit Considering Bias Reflected in Workplace Rumors

Ron Throupe, a professor in the University of Denver’s (DU) college of business, filed a lawsuit accusing the University of gender bias. In 2013, he hired a female Asian international student as his graduate assistant. In that role, she worked for his businesses and traveled with him to conferences; she spent time with Throupe and his family. He and his wife eventually adopted her when she failed to qualify for a long-term visa. Throupe alleges that DU staff, administrators, and fellow professors spread rumors about his relationship with the assistant, claiming he was in a romantic relationship with her. When a senior administrator became concerned, he brought Throupe in to discuss it, learning that she enrolled solely in Throupe’s classes, the Throupe family included her on their family cell plan, and Throupe commented on her menstrual cycle. The student declined to meet with the school’s Title IX investigator, asserting she was “fine.” The University barred Throupe from employing her, advising her, or teaching her.

Throupe sued DU for violation of Title IX, alleging the University targeted him based on his sex and subjected him to a hostile work environment. A federal district court dismissed his claims, finding rumors did not qualify as harassment directed at Throupe based on his sex.

However, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear his appeal. Throupe argued rumors about an older man having an affair with a younger woman are based on gender stereotypes about roles and behaviors. As a late add, he supplemented his sexual stereotype argument following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, where the court found Title VII prohibition against discrimination based on sex includes sexual orientation and transgender status. The circuit court heard the case this month.