Valentine Day always sparks a blog post or two about office romances. Here is one I wrote in 2017.
Does a man, who does not get promoted or get an increase, because his boss gives them to his lover, have a claim for discrimination? According to one court, the answer is “NO”.
Mr. Clark, who worked for an electric company, “… claimed that his supervisor discriminated against him by favoring another female project manager with respect to bonuses, job assignments, and other working conditions, because the supervisor had been, or was, romantically involved with the other project manager,” according to attorney Gauri Punjabi of Mintz Levin. However, in order to prove his claim, Clark had to prove that the supervisor was treating women as a class more favorably than men. In this particular case, the supervisor was treating ONE woman more favorably and not women as a whole. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said this did not meet the standard of discrimination, just favoritism based on a romantic relationship.
Mr. Clark also tried to claim retaliation, but according to Punjabi, Clark’s claim here also did not meet the Court’s standard. She said “the court held that Clark failed to show that he had a reasonable, good faith belief that Cache Valley had retaliated against him for opposing an unlawful employment practice under Title VII – that is, it is not reasonable to believe that you are complaining about gender discrimination when you are complaining about favoritism without more.”
Takeaways from this case
Although this was a win for Mr. Clark’s employer, no one else should use this as a standard on how business should be conducted. Allowing supervisors and employees to have relationships in which they show favoritism based on romantic connections is bad business. While it may not meet the standard of discrimination, it is certainly going to cause poor employee attitudes. Additionally, I remember a case of sexual harassment, in which a female employee in such a case filed a suit because she was not able to enjoy raises and promotions because the romantic opportunities were not available to her. She claimed a “hostile environment” and won her case.
There is also the possibility that the romantic relationship could go bad and result in a claim, by the employee, of sexual harassment by the supervisor. In my opinion, office romances between supervisors and employees are never a good thing.