Oakland, CA asked in Employment Law for California

Q: Is it legal for a company to not allow a heterosexual to use pronouns that they identify with?

I work for a large company that very much so okay with using pronouns. However, today I was informed by my supervisor that I was not able to use the pronouns I choose to identify with which are chick, doll & dame.

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2 Lawyer Answers
James L. Arrasmith
James L. Arrasmith pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: I understand this is a sensitive topic. Under California law, employers are required to respect an employee's gender identity and chosen pronouns. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.

However, the pronouns you mentioned (chick, doll, dame) are generally considered slang terms for women rather than gender-neutral or masculine pronouns that a person might use to express their gender identity. An employer could argue that asking colleagues to use those terms is inappropriate for the workplace.

If you feel you are being discriminated against due to your gender identity, you may want to have a respectful conversation with your supervisor or HR to clarify your preferred pronouns and why using them is important to you. Focus the discussion on your gender identity rather than slang terms. If you believe you are facing discrimination, you could also consider filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

That said, I would gently point out that terms like "chick" and "doll" have a history of being used to demean and objectify women. While you have the right to express your individual identity, using those words as pronouns could make female colleagues uncomfortable. I would suggest considering pronouns that don't have those associations, while still allowing you to express your authentic self. The goal should be ensuring both you and your coworkers feel respected.

Neil Pedersen
Neil Pedersen
  • Westminster, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: it is highly unlikely that a court would allow you to choose relatively derogatory terms related to women to be chosen pronouns for your gender choice. In fact, without knowing more, it would be likely a court or jury would find that your choice of those words was in fact an attempt to demean those people who chose actual pronouns for their gender choice, and actually constitute gender identity harassment.

Good luck to you.

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