More Men Are Filing Sexual Discrimination Suits
The National Law Journal
August 06, 2010
The macho man image is dead in some workplaces.
So say employment attorneys, whose reaction to the recent Jimmy Fallon sex discrimination scandal — in which a stage manager claims that he was fired by the comedian and replaced by a less qualified woman — was essentially, "no surprise." In a complaint filed July 23 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, NBC stagehand Paul Tarascio claims that he lost his job because Fallon "just prefers to take direction from a woman."
"You don't have many people claiming that there's an employer that discriminates against men, quite frankly. But when you hear it in context, and you read his complaint, you see why he believes there's good reason to file a complaint," said Tarascio's lawyer, Dominick Bratti of Woodbridge, N.J.'s Wilentz Goldman & Spitzer.
Bratti, who mostly defends employers in workplace disputes, said he felt compelled to represent Tarascio after hearing his story — that he lost his job "out of some sort of preference."
"I felt for the guy. I saw him as someone who needed someone to stick up for him," Bratti said.
As of Aug. 2, NBC officials said they had not yet seen the complaint. As for the claims being made, the company said, "Any claim of sexual discrimination is without merit."
The Fallon case, employment lawyers say, is a sign of the times: Men are getting more and more comfortable about complaining that they've been mistreated at work because of their sex.
Even construction workers.
Less than a week after the Fallon complaint was filed, the EEOC filed a sexual harassment lawsuit on behalf of a male construction worker in Virginia who claimed that his male foreman called him "sexy," blew him kisses, caressed his hands and back, and told him he had to sleep with the foreman to work at the next job site. In EEOC v. Tidewater Plastering and Drywall Co. Inc., the plaintiff, Jorge Calderon, claimed that when he sought the the help of his employer, the president of the company told him nothing could be done, forcing him to quit.
A response has not yet been filed to the suit. Officials with the Virginia Beach-based Tidewater were not available for comment.
Meanwhile, Calderon's complaint is one of many by males that's keeping the EEOC busy these days.
According to EEOC, the percentage of sexual harassment claims filed by men doubled from 8% to 16% of all claims, from 1990 to 2009. Harassment aside, EEOC and private attorneys say they're also witnessing more men suing over women getting more favorable treatment than men in the workplace.
As EEOC attorney Nedra Campbell explained, men suing over discrimination at work is not as uncommon as people think. "We are getting more complaints [from men]," Campbell said. "A growing number of men are coming forward and saying those types of things, such as 'I can't get a secretarial job.' Or they might complain about different treatment in other respects."
For example, Campbell said, more men are claiming caregiver bias at work, accusing their employers of being more generous with women in granting time off to care for a sick family member. Men also claim that their sexual harassment complaints aren't being taken seriously by employers.
Such is the case in Campbell's pending harassment and discrimination suit against Lenscrafters in the Eastern District of Michigan. In EEOC v. Luxottica Retail, a man claims that his employer ignored his sexual harassment complaint because he was a man.
"A female complained about sexual harassment, and they immediately addressed the situation," she said. "But he complained about it, and they just let him deal with it on his own."
Susan H. Hiser of Vercruysse Murray & Calzone in Bingham Farms, Mich., who is representing Lenscrafters, was unavailable for comment.
The EEOC statistics come as no surprise to Audrey Mross, who heads the labor and employment practice group at Munck Carter in Dallas and frequently trains employers on sex discrimination. "When I do my harassment training for companies, I tell them oftentimes harassment isn't as much about sex as it is about power."
And with more women gaining power in the workplace, she said, it's no surprise more men claim harassment. "It's probably not a fluke that as women move into roles of power that the proportion of claims by men is climbing proportionally," she said. "It ties back into that, 'it's not a guy problem or a girl problem' — it's a problem that comes with positions of power."
And the days of men being afraid to say they're being overpowered — especially by a woman — are over, said Nesheba Kittling of the Chicago office of Atlanta's Fisher & Phillips, whose firm is currently defending two employers in sexual harassment cases involving male plaintiffs.
"For the longest time, men felt like it wasn't acceptable to come out and say that they were victims of discrimination and harassment. But as society has become more accepting of different lifestyles, they feel more comfortable doing so," she said, pointing to the Fallon case. "In the seventies, I don't know if you would ever see a man filing a suit against a celebrity because he was a man."
Kittling predicts more Fallon-type suits are in the pipeline. "I would not be surprised if we got more."