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Pennsylvania Gay
Man Appeals Discrimination Case

Pennsylvania Gay
Man Appeals Discrimination Case

A gay man is back in court, in a suit against his former employer, which he alleges discriminated against him because he did not conform to stereotypical gender norms. Brian Prowel filed a federal suit against Wise Business Forms Inc. in Butler, Pa., in February 2006, having left after 13 years with the company.

A gay man is back in court, in a suit against his former employer, which he alleges discriminated against him because he did not conform to stereotypical gender norms. Brian Prowel filed a federal suit against Wise Business Forms Inc. in Butler, Pa., in February 2006, after he decided he could no longer tolerate the workplace conditions. He had worked for Wise for 13 years.

Prowel claims in his suit that he was discriminated against on the basis of his gender, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He alleges that coworkers called him "princess" and someone placed a feathered tiara and packets of lubricant on his desk.

But while U.S. district judge Terrence McVerry said the harassment was "reprehensible," he said he could not argue that Prowel was the subject of discrimination based on gender but rather sexual orientation, which is not covered by federal statute. He dismissed the case, but Prowel appealed, and his case will go before the third circuit court of appeals Wednesday.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that gender stereotyping is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964.

Susan Freitsche of the Women's Law Project said that a loss in Prowel's case could be detrimental to women workers. The Supreme Court ruling 19 years ago said that employers "can't make women act feminine, and they can't make men act masculine." She added, "We're very worried there's going to be a big hole blown into the side of the protections these women typically get."

The Women's Law Project cowrote an amicus brief for the case on Prowel's behalf, reminding the court that women tend to be subjected to harassment when they work in positions that don't conform to gender norms. Others listed on the friend-of-the-court brief included Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, the National Association of Women Lawyers, and the National Organization for Women's Pennsylvania chapter.

"If the reasoning of the district court in this case is upheld, however, employers who seek to lock women out of these well-paying fields could evade Title VII liability through the simple expedient of lacing their gender discrimination with enough anti-lesbian slurs," they wrote. (Michelle Garcia, The Advocate)

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