Ask Yetta: Gender Specific Dress Codes


Dear Yetta,

I like to wear suits, vests and ties at work. However, my job recently imposed a gender-specific dress code policy that makes it mandatory for women to wear skirts and blouses. Is this allowable?

— Stephanie

Dear Stephanie,
Good question. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. Recent court cases and the Equal Employment Opportunity Com­mission’s (EEOC) interpretation and enforcement of Title VII have demonstrated that gender-specific dress code policies may violate Title VII.
Until recently, many courts have found dress code policies permissible under Title VII when it differentiates between length of hair, piercings, and dresses or skirts for women and suits and ties for men. However, recent courts have found that a gender-specific dress code policy will violate Title VII if found to be more burdensome on one gender than the other. Imposing a dress code on one gender but not the other may constitute a violation under Title VII.
In addition, the EEOC, which is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against an employee based on sex, has interpreted and enforced the Title VII prohibition of sex discrimination as forbidding any employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. As such, the EEOC has determined that employers may set gender-specific dress codes but may not choose for the employee which gender to comply with.
Due to the complexity of the legal landscape regarding gender-specific dress codes, it’s best to consult an attorney with discrimination experience to discuss not only federal, but state laws that may afford you additional protections against sex discrimination. I hope this is helpful. Good luck!
— Yetta
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This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of their own attorney.