What constitutes actionable language by an employer?

I had a fellow co-worker which is a supervisor, tell me, “Stilettos are not for the work place they belong on a stripper pole or in a bar”. Is this appropriate for her to say this? My manager doesn’t have a problem that I wear stilettos as long as I am dressing appropriate.

Asked on May 30, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

That may constitute sexual harassment, since it is a remark directed against you as a woman, which appears to be sexually based. That said, context is important: if even though your manager allows you to wear stilletos, they would more generally be regarded as inappropriate for your workplace, profession, job, etc., it is possible that the remark would not be held to contsitute actionable harassment, particularly if it was an isolated remark and not part of a pattern of sexual harassment.

Moreover--and perhaps more importantly--if there was only the one objectionable remark, it's not clear if there is any effective recourse. The amount of compensation you could received for a single remark, absent continuing harassment or some negative employment consequence, would be nominal at best. Unless there is more or ongoing harassment, or some negative consequence to you (e.g. being paid less, not being promoted, etc.), it is highly unlikely to be worthwhile to file a complaint or take legal action.


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