What if your employer held a "men only" event for its customers,
and you, a woman, were excluded? Would you feel that you have been discriminated
against? Ok, maybe since you are of the wrong gender, and might feel a
bit uncomfortable at the event, you let it go. But after thinking about
it more, you complain to your supervisor, and then you are fired. Is it
Yes it is, according to a decision issued by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal
in Ontario, Canada. The facts: Sherie McConaghie was the only female executive
at Systemgroup Consulting Inc., a company which designed customized computer
applications. Systemgroup sponsored a customer appreciation day that was
for men only. It paid for male employees and clients to attend a ski event
called "Men's Day", where the brochure advertised "A
Day for Men without Women and Children" and the tag line was "Bring
your friends, bring your acquaintances, just don't bring your wife!"
Systemgroup's electronic calendar invitation to the event listed planned
activities including: "massage" and "Hooters Girls."
McConaghie was not invited to "Men's Day" because she was
a woman, and was informed of the details of the event from one of her
male customers. She complained about the event to both her immediate supervisor
and the company president, neither of whom found the gender-exclusive
event to be inappropriate. Following her complaint, McConaghie was excluded
from important meetings and networking opportunities and eventually she
was fired. She filed a claim alleging that her exclusion from "Men's
Day" constituted discrimination on the basis of sex and that her
termination (and the events leading up to it) amounted to retaliation
for exercising her rights under the Human Rights Code (which is very similar
to the New York City Human Rights Law).
The court found that the purpose of "Men's Day" was to strengthen
relationships between the employer's sales associates and their customers
and concluded that:
By holding a customer appreciation event that excluded the applicant because
of her gender, the respondent undercut the applicant's ability to
compete on the same playing field as her male peers. It did so without
apparent consideration of how her male clients might perceive her exclusion
or how it might damage her working relationships; and it did so in a male-dominated
industry. In other words, its behaviour perpetuated the belief that supporting
women sales professionals in interacting with clients is less valuable
or important than supporting male sales professionals.
With regard to the retaliation claim, the court held that while there was
no direct evidence of intent to retaliate, the proximity between the complaint
and the termination was sufficient to establish an adverse inference –
an inference that the employer could not explain away.
The court awarded the lost value of the "Men's Day" event
($150 ticket price), wages for the applicant's period of unemployment,
and damages of $18,000 as compensation for injury to dignity, feelings
The takeaway? If you are employed in an industry that is heavily weighted
toward one gender or the other and you are excluded from company functions
because you are of the opposite gender, you may have a claim for gender
discrimination. If you complain and are subsequently fired, you certainly
would have a claim for retaliation.
If you feel you have been a victim of gender discrimination in the workplace,
contact the attorneys at Schwartz and Perry LLP.