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Are gendered dress codes discriminatory?

Published By | Mar 6, 2023 | Discrimination

Several states, including New York, have implemented laws to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Despite these efforts, rigid gendered guidelines continue to permeate many facets of society. For instance, Alaska Airlines recently came under fire for discriminatory enforcement of its uniform policies.

The problem with gendered dress codes

The airline’s dress code, which has since been changed, required flight attendants to dress in either “male” or “female” uniforms.

For instance, only females were allowed to wear skirts, lipstick, or nail polish. Females could wear neck scarves, but not neckties.  Women disinclined to wear traditionally feminine clothing, men who like to paint their nails, non-binary people wanting to wear a blend of traditionally male and female styles…all were negatively impacted by the rigid binary dress code.

The Washington State Commission on Human Rights found that requiring employees to dress and groom in a manner inconsistent with their gender identity and expression violates state law, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, appearance, expression, behavior, or other gender-related characteristics.

Gendered dress codes may be discriminatory under federal law, too

The ACLU has argued that gender-based uniform policies also violate prohibitions against sex discrimination.

In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins that employers may not use gender stereotypes to make employment decisions. In that case, the Court found that requiring a woman to behave and dress in a more traditionally feminine way in order to secure a promotion constituted impermissible sex discrimination under federal law.

If your employer imposes a gender-specific uniform or dress code that does not allow you to express your gender identity, you may have a legal claim. Talk to an employment attorney to determine your rights.

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