Title VII prohibits discrimination based on gender. Numerous federal courts have rejected claims by female workers that they were discriminated against when their managers showed preferential treatment toward a female co-worker because they were engaged in an affair. In these cases, courts concluded that the plaintiffs were not discriminated against based on their gender, but instead because they were not involved in the alleged affair. This is not discrimination covered under Title VII.
Last month, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals used similar legal reasoning to reject a claim based on a variation of this scenario. In Clark v. Cache Valley Elec. Co., the plaintiff was a male employee who alleged that his male supervisor had a close relationship with a female co-worker. The plaintiff alleged that he was discriminated against due to favoritism shown by the supervisor to his friend. He alleged that this case was distinguishable from the affair cases, because in this situation, there were no allegations of sexual conduct, only a close friendship.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the employer, finding no difference between the two kinds of relationships. The plaintiff was not discriminated against based on his gender. The court noted that other female employees who did not have the same alleged close relationship with the manager also did not receive favorable treatment. While these kinds of relationships can cause major human resource headaches for employers, in most cases, they will not be considered illegal employment discrimination.