There Are Better Ways to Enforce A Dress Code

Why do these kinds of cases only happen in Texas? In a head-scratching act of stupidity, the president of hatmaking company near Wichita Falls, Crowell Contract and Design, pulled a female employee’s pants down in front of her coworkers.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was not amused. It sued on the female employee’s behalf, claiming that the president created a sexually hostile work environment. The company had to pay $21,500 to the employee to settle the case, as well as agreeing to provide training to all of its employees on preventing sexual harassment. The EEOC characterized the action of the president as an abuse of power.

I’m guessing that at the time of the incident, the president of the company probably thought of it as a prank, not an abuse of power. I know that I have been tempted to do the same thing when walking behind teenagers in the mall wearing baggy jeans that show their boxer shorts (I never thought I would be pleased to see tight, skinny jeans make a comeback)! But as an adult, I have always resisted following through on that temptation. That’s what responsible people do.

Although the reports of the Crowell settlement don’t explain the company president’s motivation, I’m guessing he thought his employee’s pants were too baggy. The reports do say that he had previously threatened several times to pull her pants down.

Maybe the president didn’t know that in Texas, employers are free to write dress codes and enforce them based on the company’s expectations of professionalism and community standards. If he didn’t like baggy pants, he could have prohibited his employees from wearing them. As long as your dress code doesn’t single out one gender or one race and discriminate against that group, it is not illegal.

His “prank” appears to me as a passive/aggressive way of handling a pretty simple dress code problem. If the president of the company thought his employee was inappropriately dressed, he should have verbally warned her that her clothes violated the company dress code and sent her home to change clothes. If she continued to wear the baggy pants, he should have given her a written warning, a suspension and then fired her. That is the standard progressive discipline policy that every savvy employer in this country understands and enforces.

The president unwisely resorted to a fraternity prank instead of good management. It was an expensive decision. It reminds me of an incident a few years ago when a Dallas producer on the Barney show (purple singing dragon, remember?) decided that he would discipline a female employee by spanking her! Maybe he had worked in children’s television too long. That one resulted in a sexual harassment suit also.

Come on, Texas! We can do better.

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