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Student Project: Appearance Policies as Sex Discrimination in the Workplace: Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins

A guide to Title VII and sex stereotyping.

Ann Hopkins

What happened to Ann Hopkins?

As a result of the suit, a year later, a federal district judge awarded Hopkins the partnership position that she was originally denied. Price Waterhouse was also ordered by the judge to pay Hopkins between $300,000 and $400,000 in back pay. Hopkins had already moved on to a senior budgeting position at World Bank but later returned to Price Warehouse until her retirement in 2002. 

Landmark Case

In a landmark Supreme Court case, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Court took a broad approach to define “sex” within Title VII and recognized sex-stereotyping as discrimination because of sex.

Case Summary:

In Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, Ann Hopkins was one of eighty-eight candidates for partnership with the firm, but the only woman. Hopkins brought a Title VII suit, after she was allegedly denied the partnership position for not conforming to stereotypical notions of how a woman should act, dress, and behave.

Implications:

  • The Court took a broad approach to define “sex” within Title VII and recognized sex-stereotyping as discrimination because of sex.
  • Justice Brennan clarified the term “sex stereotyping” in relation to Title VII:
“[W]e are beyond the day when an employer could evaluate employees by assuming or insisting that they matched the stereotype associated with their group, for “’[i]n forbidding employers to discriminate against individuals because of their sex, Congress intended to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women resulting from sex stereotypes.”’ Price Waterhouse, 490 U.S. at 251. 
  • Applying this principle to the case at hand, the Court found that sex discrimination includes not only refusing to promote someone because she is female, but also refusing to promote someone because she is a female who does not act "appropriately" feminine. 
  • Thus, discrimination “because of sex” includes prohibiting an employer from discrimination against gender stereotypes.