Called Gay

Question:

There is supervisor at my work who likes to “throw” the “gay” remarks out when he has an audience. I’m straight and married but he’s directed a couple of these remarks to me. I confronted him once already about knocking it off. If I submit a complaint to my supervisor and then he does it again, can I file an EEOC claim or get an attorney and file suit alleging “hostile environment?”

Signed,

Prefer Staight Talk


Answer:

Dear Prefer Staight Talk:

Of course you can file an EEOC claim and/or get an attorney. Whether such a complaint would be handled to your satisfaction is uncertain. As our disclaimer states our expertise is limited to workplace communication and we do not give legal or medical advice; however, we have some experience of how an EEO agency functions. One possible action during an investigation is for the accused and accuser of sexual harassment to be separated from work assignments that bring them together. Interviews then follow of those in the work area, to collect as much data as is possible on what the accuser stated happened. Thousands of complaints and subsequent investigations and court rules have resulted in only a few successful cases. Those that are successful most often are quid pro quo such as requiring sexual acts for maintaining one’s job or cases in which a complaint has been filed for a pattern of harassment and the employer has failed to make a reasonable effort to stop it. I assume that you do not come across as what some people see as gay, and even if you do, that supervisor has no right to “to “throw” the “gay” remarks out when he has an audience.” I think you were right to tell that supervisor to “knock it off.” Saying “knock it off” might have to be said more firmly to a supervisor who lacks the good sense and good manners to avoid demeaning talk.

In your case, a time or two or three of being called gay probably would not be seen as a pattern of sexual harassment, no matter how demeaning you felt it was. A careful reading of your question implies that your own supervisor is not the one you say singled you out with a gay taunt. And your next step would be to firmly tell your own supervisor how displeased you are to be so labeled. Then if the gay taunts continues, you should request that your supervisor accompany you to the next level; possible a manager of Human Resources or Personnel.

What would you do if you were supervisor and one of your workers brought to you such a complaint as yours? Would your first impulse be to take it to EEO? Probably not. Rather, you likely would speak privately to the accused supervisor to learn if the report was a he said/he said unsupported complaint. Also probably if you found there was some substance to the complaint, you would tell the gay taunting supervisor that such talk is verbal abuse and that it will not be tolerated. You likely also would ask this supervisor why he targeted the complaining worker. You would ferret out what else might be going on between the accuser and accused. Your goal would be civility and more than that, it would be correcting what does harm to a worker-friendly environment.

In professional sports, coaches do not tolerate taunting by fellow players and such behavior of opposing players is penalized. In the workplace, the kind of gay taunting you describe most likely is linked to ill-mannered machismo and it is rooted in bullying. Confronting the supervisor as you did should deter such behavior. In my opinion, you were and are right. Just ignoring it is not a good course of action. Because sometimes bullies are slow learners, you and your own supervisor may need to spell out a firm warning that unless it is completely stopped a formal investigation comes next. Ideally, your work group would work as a team and your supervisor would see him/herself as a coach. And your team would interact with other work groups in cooperatively because the success of your workplace hinges on cooperation. Ideally, especially in these tough times your workplace would be so busy finding ways to cut wasted supplies, time, energy and money that you would be cheering each other on rather than be distracted by interpersonal verbal abuse. That’s what taunts are and you would be wise to use that in your complaint.

Please keep us posted on what you elect to do and what works. Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. How do does a workplace achieve that kind of mutually satisfying work? It might be that your confronting this ill-mannered fellow in a forthright way is what is needed.

William Gorden