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Masculinities theory explains that masculinity is constructed in relation to a dominant image of gender difference, ultimately defining itself simply as what “femininity” is not. In the workplace, masculinities comprise both a structure that reinforces the superiority of men over women, and a series of practices associated with masculine behavior (performed by men and women) that maintain men’s superior position over women at work, yet specific masculinities differ according to the type of workplace. This article applies masculinities theory to analyze whether Title VII should protect women employees in highly sexualized workplaces from sex- or gender-based hostile work environments, created by customers and tolerated by the employer. To this end, the author employs a case study of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Through its advertisements and policies, the Hard Rock creates a highly sexualized workplace for its female blackjack dealers, producing an atmosphere imbued with aggressive masculinities that create a stressful working environment for women dealers. The Hard Rock promotes and ratifies this behavior by constructing this environment, yet instituting few safeguards to protect its women employees. The Hard Rock case study raises serious questions concerning the application of Title VII to protect women working in highly sexualized workplaces from hostile work environments. Part II presents the Hard Rock case study, and uses advertisements and dealers’ personal experiences to describe the Hard Rock’s sexualized environment. Part III then analyzes whether under Title VII, the law should hold the Hard Rock, and any other casino with a similar sexualized atmosphere, responsible for customer behavior that harms its women employees. The author reaches several conclusions. First, courts should consider the context of the workplace and the job the woman performs in determining whether her employer has violated Title VII. Second, the Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications (BFOQ) defense should not expand to defend an employer’s failure to protect women employees from harassing behavior in a highly sexualized workplace. Finally, although employees should bear some responsibility to complain about harassment, the employer, who creates the sexualized environment and profits from it, rather than the individual employee, has the greater opportunity to control and prevent harassing behavior, and therefore, should take extra precautions to assure employees are not suffering from harassment by customers. Title VII guarantees women equal job opportunities and equal treatment, even in highly sexualized workplaces. No woman should have to choose between a job that pays excellent tips and a harassment-free work environment.

Publication Citation

2007 University of Illinois Law Review 1229 (2007).