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What one racy lawsuit can teach workers and employers

The media has been buzzing lately about a high-profile gender discrimination case with roots in the halls of a prominent venture capital firm. The buzz primarily surrounds the racier aspects of the case, which involve an office affair, an inappropriate encounter between colleagues at a hotel and a nude photo book. However, the reason why this particular case is vitally important is that the most pressing aspects of the case include issues which could occur in any workplace across the nation.

Female employees of the venture capital firm insist that they were denied credit for business deals that they brought into the firm. They were excluded from social gatherings simply because they were female. And at least one female worker received the kinds of messages that many female workers regularly receive as “constructive” feedback. On the one hand, she was told that she came across as pushy, entitled and too verbally aggressive. On the other hand, she was told that she was too passive and did not speak up enough.

This particular lawsuit serves to teach both workers and employers a valuable lesson. Although it is the racier aspects of this lawsuit which are inspiring the press to cover it in such detail, it is the common forms of discrimination which include exclusion, denial and mixed-messages that make this case compelling. Both employers and workers need to understand that it is oftentimes the most ordinary behaviors which are ultimately illegal and therefore need to be addressed properly, respectfully and urgently.

Source: New York Times, “A Racy Silicon Valley Lawsuit, and More Subtle Questions About Sex Discrimination,” Claire Cain Miller, March 6, 2015

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