Preferential Treatment Within a Workplace Romance Is Not a Basis For Gender Discrimination

Is an Employer’s preferential treatment of a friend/paramour considered to be employment discrimination? According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, evidence of favoritism or a special friendship/relationship is insufficient to establish a claim for gender discrimination. A claim for reverse gender discrimination considers whether the plaintiff can (1) present background circumstances that support an inference that the defendant is one of those unusual employers who discriminates against the majority; (2) the victim suffered adverse employment actions; and (3) the challenged action took place under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.

In Clarke v. Cache Valley Electric, plaintiff filed a gender discrimination claim based on the perceived romantic relationship between a project manager and another employee. In the plaintiff’s complaint and deposition, he articulated a relationship-based rationale to describe the discrimination. When the plaintiff employee was asked to give specific instances of the discrimination, he described the employees’ relationship as one of a “married couple” that was not business-based. The plaintiff employee failed to offer evidence to support his contention that the favoritism toward the female employee was because she was a female. The Court ruled that the plaintiff employee failed to present any evidence that the defendant employee treated women more favorably than men and that he failed to offer instances that gave rise to an inference of discrimination. Moreover, the Court concluded that “preferential treatment on the basis of a consensual romantic relations between a supervisor and an employee is not gender-based discrimination.”

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