U.S. Capital

Speaking Professional Lingo is Not Necessarily Sex Discrimination

Jan 5, 2013

Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) January 4, 2013 – Some professionals may not understand what they said when it comes to sex discrimination.

“This recent case, Blasdel v. North Western University, No. 11-2075, 7th Cir., 2012, is interesting, largely because the court decided that some professionals are not as aware and articulate as perhaps they should be when it comes to making sexist comments. That being said, it appears that even though they may make sexist remarks, they may not comprehend their significance, and thus are not censured for them,” remarked Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace.

The story in this instance was about Isabelle Blasdel, who was hired by Northwestern University at a higher rank than other new professors would ordinarily receive. This was due to the fact that she was hired away from another elite educational institution, thus laying the groundwork for higher expectations of this individual. Due to her status on hiring, Blasdel would be eligible for tenure much sooner than others, and was expected to perform at a higher level in leading ground-breaking research and securing grants. She would have a “tough row to hoe” to prove she was worthy of a permanent job (aka, tenure).

At tenure-review time, it was discovered that she had not performed as well as expected. Since this left her in a bind, her supervisor offered to write her a letter, asking the University to extend her trial period. He requested such consideration because she was “a woman scientist who reproduced,” and because she had two young boys to care for, in addition to her job, it was difficult for her to achieve her potential without more time.

“While the man may have meant well, and was trying to help her get an extension, the way it came out was offensive to the plaintiff. She sued the University, alleging the comments were sexist and thinly veiled sexual discrimination. In all truth, the comments could well be construed as sexual discrimination, but could also have been a misunderstanding,” added Coffey.

At trial, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals did not agree that the comments amounted to sex discrimination. Instead, they were of the opinion that the supervisor did not know how to express himself properly. In their judgment, scientists often talked in what might be considered an obscure manner to begin with, referencing many scientific principles and theories. They felt that tendency would explain why the man separated scientists into two groups: non-reproducers and reproducers.

“The court dismissed the case, as there was no other evidence of actual sex discrimination present. Perhaps understandably, the plaintiff was not happy with the outcome of her case. It should be considered though that even though the court did dismiss this suit, in other circumstances similar to this, there may well be cause for a finding of sexual discrimination. Each case is determined on its details. This is why it is wise to consult with an experienced employment lawyer,” advised Coffey.

Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com

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