The New York Times has a big story today about a gender discrimination lawsuit filed against Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. In it, James T Hayes, Jr. claims that he was pushed out of his position at the US Immigration Office to make way for a female who wasn’t as qualified as he was. When he threatened to sue, he says that the government agency retaliated against him, opening bogus misconduct investigations in an attempt to threaten him into silence. Hayes also contents that a former boss committed sexual harassment and ran a “frat-house like” culture that intimidated men in the workplace.
I have to admit that I had my moments when I questioned the story told by Hayes. And part of that reluctance certainly came from the fact that we just aren’t used to seeing men claiming gender discrimination. I read sentences like, “Men make up the majority of the leadership at ICE,” and I think that obviously we haven’t reached a culture where men are routinely passed over for work or promotions simply because they don’t have a uterus. It’s not like there are no successful men at immigration, which might demonstrate that women are routinely picked for top positions over male candidates, qualification levels be damned.
Then I thought about the story of Brandon Cobb, a high school coach who was fired because there were no female employees of the athletic department and his school wanted more gender diversity. That man was still fired because of his gender, and that’s unacceptable.
Now I’m not suggesting that Hayes was pushed out of his job to make way for more gender diversity, I’m simply saying that having a lot of men around doesn’t necessarily mean that gender discrimination against men isn’t taking place.
More than anything, I think it’s important that feminists support cases like this, and support the effort to make sure that every person, no matter their gender, is given a fair opportunity. If the Immigration department is really discriminating against men, those responsible need to be reprimanded and the men involved need to be compensated.
There’s something about this claim that feel familiar to women in the workplace, although they’re rarely on this side of it. The charges of a “frat-house like” culture have been echoed against prominent companies run by men for decades. Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg were charged with a “frat boy” culture. The Chicago Tribune famously suffered from mountains of criticism for its “frat-like” feeling. But this case is the first time that I’ve heard the frat house analogy applied to a situation that discriminates against men. Does the choice of words make me scratch my head a little? Yes. Does that make it false? No.
The Immigration department, like every other company that’s been charged with gender discrimination, still has to make it’s side of the story. Investigations will have to be, judgment will be passed. But women looking for equality should stand up and support anyone who faces the uphill battle of confronting gender bias. It we’re real feminists, we’ll respect both female and male points of view on workplace discrimination and equal opportunity.