You heard me. In a recent case in Ohio, a guy fired his dental assistant because he'd grown attracted to her and was afraid he'd start cheating on his wife. The all-male court agreed that this was a sensible decision, since the termination was motivated by "feelings" rather than gender. This reminded me of a Canadian case in 2009 in which a woman was terminated after telling her employer she didn't like being called "Boobie girl."
The similarity lies in the fact that in both cases, the issues were deemed not sexual harassment on the basis that the employers did not actively pursue or expect sexual favors. The guy from Ohio fired his dental assistant because he was concerned about his growing feelings towards her, while the woman from Ontario didn't mean "boobie girl" in a sexual way, just a... fun? Cute? Way to refer to her subordinate in front of other employees, superiors, and customers.
Here is my issue with both of these rulings, and why I think they open the door to more harassment in the workplace. In both cases, the person terminated was removed for something they have no control over, and in both cases the sexuality of the plaintiff were at the core of their termination.
The problem is that these decisions intentionally disregard the purpose of legislation meant to prevent discrimination, be it based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever else. The point of such laws is to prevent an employer from mistreating or terminating an employee for reasons outside of their performance. One of the reasons cited in the Ohio case was that since the employee was terminated after the employer's wife saw a few texts the two had exchanged, the employer was justified in terminating her “because of the activities of her consensual personal relationship.” Here in Canada, we'd like to think such a ruling would never be accepted since an employee cannot legally consent to a relationship with a superior because of the authority the employer holds over the employee.
However, the Ontario case does nothing to suggest the rights we have as employees are sacrosanct. In the "boobie girl" case, the supervisor called a subordinate the aforementioned title on a regular basis, supposedly as a joke. Since she had no sexual interest in the person, it was not considered sexual harassment, merely retribution when she complained and was terminated, for which she was compensated. The issue here lies in the fact that while her supervisor was apparently not interested in her subordinate sexually, by calling her that, she was in fact turning her into a sexual object in the workplace.
If someone were to point out a person's body part to you, would your first instinct not be to look? Does it not make it seem to other employees that this may be acceptable behaviour? What if other people in the department began to call her that as well? What if she was sexually harassed as a result of this when another employee took the joke too far? Would the courts still feel this harassment wasn't sexual in nature?
To compare, there was a case prior to this in which a religious woman sued her company for sexual harassment (and won) when the secretary's husband dropped off her forgotten lunch and kissed her on the mouth on his way back out. Since this was considered a sexual element in the workplace, even though the plaintiff was not in any way related to the instance and the contact was between a married employee and her non-employee spouse, she won her suit.
Granted, the court decided that while she was prima facie right, she wasn't entitled to any damages (and what possible damages could there have been in that case?), but the precedent was set. Bringing in sexual content is not appropriate in the workplace, and retribution against the employee who complains is absolutely against the law, which should mean that neither of the cases above should have happened, but here we are after all, in 2013, still talking about employers being "justified" in firing an employee because they feared their own impulses, as if that is the employee's fault or problem.
Get some therapy, dude.