Coyle Browne Law


Is It Discrimination if My Employer Doesn’t Use My Preferred Pronouns?

Misgendering occurs when someone uses incorrect pronouns in reference to an individual’s gender. This can have a discouraging and harmful impact on people and contribute to an unsafe work environment. 

The landmark Bostock v. Clayton County case of 2020 saw the U.S. Supreme Court extend Title VII protections under the Civil Rights Act towards prohibiting job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, which highlights transgender employees’ rights against workplace harassment.

Equally important is understanding state laws like California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) that accentuate these anti-discrimination terms at local levels by explicitly defending employees from harassment because of their gender identity or expression—including situations where personal pronouns are intentionally ignored.

Your Employer Must Use Your Personal Pronouns

Legally, employers are required to treat employees according to their identified gender and pronouns, regardless of what their legal documents may state. Employers are not permitted to request any form of legal documentation to validate someone’s sex, gender identity, or expression. This means that if you, as an employee, identify with a certain gender and pronouns, your employer should respect that without demanding proof:

“If an employee requests to be identified with a preferred gender, name, and/or pronoun, including gender-neutral pronouns, an employer or other covered entity who fails to abide by the employee’s stated preference may be liable under the Act…”

This Also Applies To The Hiring Process

Additionally, during the hiring process, employers are not allowed to ask questions that aim to determine an applicant’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes questions about personal pronouns. While some companies are proactively disclosing their inclusive culture during interviews, applicants should be conscious that any attempt to ascertain gender identity or sexual orientation by the employer can be considered discriminatory. In the event this happens to you, you may contact a sex discrimination lawyer in San Diego to determine if you may have a case.

Taking Action: Filing a Claim with the DFEH

If you believe your employer is discriminating against you by not using your correct personal pronouns, one possible avenue for redress is filing a claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). This process will typically involve submitting a complaint form, attending mediation sessions, and participating in investigations by the agency.

Successfully handling a claim through the DFEH could lead to various outcomes, such as policy changes at your workplace, retraining for your employer, getting your job back if you were terminated, and monetary recovery for lost income. You might also be able to recover other out-of-pocket expenses and losses resulting from the discriminatory behavior.

Pursuing a Civil Lawsuit Against Your Employer

Another potential approach is filing a civil lawsuit against your employer. In this scenario, you’ll need to consult with a San Diego employment law attorney who specializes in employment discrimination. Your attorney will help you navigate the legal process and build a compelling case that your employer’s refusal to use your personal pronouns is discriminatory.

If your civil lawsuit is successful, you could be eligible to receive various types of compensation, which may include:

  • Lost income
  • Lost benefits
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages (intended to punish your employer for their discriminatory behavior)
  • Legal fees

Keep in mind that the specific type and amount of compensation you may receive will always depend on the unique details surrounding your workplace lawsuit.

If your employer consciously refuses to use your requested pronouns, it’s not just disrespectful, it could be legally considered discrimination and establish grounds for a cause of action. If you’re unsure whether you should proceed with a claim, we’re here to help. Don’t hesitate to contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation. 

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