What are my rights if my boss has told me that I can’t wear shorts in the office and yet all of the men are allowed to wear shorts as well as the other women?

I feel like I am being discriminated against. He also indirectly threatened me with a lawsuit due to the fact that my work emails were forwarding to the COO. I was told I made an inexpensive mistake. It turns out we had a server error and none of it was my fault. I don’t know what to do.

Asked on July 12, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Illinois

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

If you feel that the reason you can't wear shorts is a form of sexual harassment or discrimination, then you may have a legal claim and should speak with your state's civil or equal rights division about the situation. But if there are non-sexual harassment or discrimination reasons--e.g. you have tatoos on your legs which other employees lack; you are in a different position, where shorts may be inappropriate--then you most likely do not have any claim.

(Note: while some form of sexual discrimination is most likely, if this is discrimination against you because of your race or your age over 40, it may be also be illegal discrimination. The other potential grounds for discrimination, such as on the basis of religion or disabilty, would not seem to be applicable.)

You can be discriplined, even terminated, for sending emails to the wrong person, unless you have an employment contract which limits grounds for discipline/termination or provides some process for it which must be followed; however, in the absence of a contract, you are an employee at will, and--so long as they are not discriminating on a protected basis (e.g. against you on the basis of your sex, race, religion, age over 40, or disability)--essentially any employment action may be taken against you.

It is unlikely you could be successfully sued. A successful lawsuit would have to establish your fault (such as you intentionally sent the COO the emails; or you were unreasonably careless, or negligent, in sending them) and also that there was some damage, loss, or cost caused by t his act.


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