Under Title VII of the Civil Rights of Act, any employment decision, such as hiring, promotion and firing, based on five protected classes: race, color, religion, gender and nation origin is considered illegal discrimination (Steingold, 2017). In addition, federal laws also ban age, pregnancy, disability and other factors as illegal workplace discrimination (2017). Although Title VII and other antidiscrimination laws prohibit discrimination in some extent, some employers still share a “stereotype” concept, a common idea about a group of people, which is always a bias than right conception. For some widely accepted “stereotypes”, such as Asian females are terrible drivers; black people are good at doing sports; and Indians are dirty, employers who believe in those “stereotypes” will refuse to hire Asian females to be drivers; prefer to hire black people to perform physical-oriented jobs; and keep Indians away from kitchens. Therefore, such a “stereotype” concept leads to both direct and indirect discrimination in the workplace.
One of the most common “stereotypes” is age stereotyping. Employers always prefer hiring younger workers in the believe that younger workers have better physical and mental abilities than older workers. For example, youngsters are more fast-learning in new technologies; more ambitious in seeking improvement; and can perform better in physical tasks. Therefore, although the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act protects older workers who are over 40 years old from age discrimination, discrimination based on age stereotyping still exists (2017). In addition, age discrimination can only be accepted by the judge or jury when age is a “but for” cause, which bring plaintiffs a great difficulty in gathering proof (Hedge & Borman, 2012)
There was a famous age discrimination case: Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, which not only demonstrates the discrimination created by age stereotyping, but also changed the rule in Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, improved it to benefit old workers. Knolls Atomic Power lab, a private company contracted with the National Government, was ordered to cut off about 30 employees from its work force (2008). However, among 31 employees fired by Knolls, 30 of them are over 40 years old, which made laid offs believed there was age discrimination involved in. Therefore, plaintiffs, Meacham and other 29 laid offs, initiated their claim about disparate-treatment and disparate-impact under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
According to the statement from Knolls, the outcome was not related to any age factor that manager chose the layoff employees based on their performance, flexibility and critical skills. While the plaintiffs believed that the criteria created by manager was an excuse to use RFOA (“reasonable factors other than age”) defense. Although Knolls claimed that the score ruling was for business necessity instead of reasonable test made their own argument untenable, Second Circuit supported Defendants, as the plaintiffs cannot prove the criteria given by Knolls was not reasonable (2008). Later, the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, which led to the 7 to 1 decision to overturn the conclusion of the case and interpretation of RFOA. Since then, the meaning of RFOA changed from employees disproving employers’ defense of reasonable factors to employers persuading employees to accept the factors. According to Justice David H. Souter, one of the judges of this case, although it is harder for employers to defend their reasonable factors, they have the responsibility of avoiding hurting old workers unlawfully (Greenhouse, 2008).
The other “stereotype” which frequently leads to workplace discrimination is gender stereotyping, which represents an unfair idea that males and females’ attributes and expression are determined by their gender rather than their natural talent and personal experience. For instance, in the traditional opinion of a family, male should provide financial support and female should take care of children and family’s welfare. Any male takes a reversed role will be considered as a kept man; any female concentrates more on work than on family will be called as a “bossy woman”. Despite Title VII of the Civil Rights of Act has classified gender as a protected characteristic of discrimination in the workplace, some employers still limit their employees’ behaviors and expressions by gender stereotyping (2017). And this action made by employers is considered as gender discrimination.
For example, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins is a landmark case reflected the sex discrimination caused by gender stereotyping and shows the effort U.S. Supreme Court put in defining employer liability under sex discrimination. Price Waterhouse was a government-contracted accounting firm which had 622 partners, and 7 of them are females (Cecka, 2016). And the former employee Ann Hopkins had worked as a senior manager in Price Waterhouse for five years and proposed for partnership. However, her proposal had been rejected because her actions did not fit what the partners considered traditional lady’s behaviors. As a result, she sued Price Waterhouse for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights of Act.
According to Hopkins, although she was qualified for partnership and performed better than her coworkers, her proposal had been denied twice. The partners told her that the promotion can only be given if her behaviors and expressions become more femininely. While the Price Waterhouse denied Hopkins’s statement and defended themselves that the poor interpersonal skill was the only reason they did not promote Hopkins. But Price Waterhouse failed to find a clear and convincing evidence to prove that same outcome would be given despite of the gender factor.
Therefore, the district court and appeal court both supported Hopkins’s claim about sex discrimination; however, she did not get full damage covered as her poor interpersonal skill contributed to the outcome (1988). But later on, this case led the U.S. Supreme Court to initiate a decision about employers’ liability is to show whether “preponderance of the evidence” or “clear and convincing evidence”. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme court reversed the decision made by both district court and appeal court, and took providing “preponderance of the evidence” as a legal liability of employers (1988). Since then, the employers’ liability has been redefined.