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