Mini-Skirt Mondays?! One Extreme Example of a Hostile Work Environment

People know this is 2011, right? While an employer maintaining a dress code is certainly not unusual, one Utah Company took the idea of a dress code to an unhealthy and illegal extreme. Trudy Anderson, an employee of an Elk Grove, Utah electrical control company has accused her boss (the company's owner) of sexual harassment. Notable amongst her allegations was her employer's attempt to enforce a dress code that included "miniskirt Mondays," "tube top Tuesdays," wet t-shirt Wednesdays," "no bra Thursdays," and "bikini top Fridays." (The question remains open as to what creative dress-style monikers the owner would come up with if the business were open on weekends.) Ms. Anderson also accused her boss of watching pornography in the office; touching her inappropriately; making invasive and intrusive sexual comments to her about her breasts; and, eventually firing her in retaliation after she reported the sexual harassment. The boss even made Ms. Anderson sign a document that said she would accept the harassment and if she had a problem with it, she would be terminated! (In this case, Ms. Anderson said that she tolerated the abuse as long as she did because she was a single mother and needed the job).

Now, an employer's enforcement of a mandatory dress code is certainly not improper; in fact, many businesses require one because it helps them to maintain a certain type of image or brand. (For example, Footlocker store employees with their black and white striped referee shirts, or, Target employees with their red shirts). Employers can even require employees to wear what may be commonly thought of as more risqué outfits, such as that nationally famous chicken wing and beer-selling restaurant named after the sound an owl makes, that offers "entertainment through female sex appeal" which requires its female food servers to wear form fitting t-shirts and short shorts at work.

Those situations are in stark contrast to Ms. Anderson's case, above. An electrical control company environment is far different than a bar/restaurant that actively markets an atmosphere of "entertainment through female sex appeal." Regardless, in this case the employer's creative dress requirement for this female employee arguably constitutes a hostile work environment. By "hostile work environment" we generally mean that the harassing conduct creates and "objectively hostile or abusive environment" that is subjectively perceived by the victim as abusive. (The offensive dress code is of course in addition to the employer's other actions and behavior that made for a hostile and abusive environment).

Ms. Anderson filed a lawsuit in the federal district court in Utah. While we have no idea what the employer's defense will be, it will be interesting to see if he can be as creative in coming up with a legal defense for why he required Ms. Anderson to submit to "wet t-shirt Wednesday" as he was in coming up with the name . . . . .

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