In November of 1938, Helen Hulick arrived in a Los Angeles court to testify against two burglary suspects. However, Judge Arthur S. Guerin sent Hulick home, ordering her to return in a dress, rather than the pants she was wearing. He warned that if she “insist[ed] on wearing slacks again [she] w[ould] be prevented from testifying because that would hinder the administration of justice.” When Hulick returned the next day, again wearing pants, Judge Guerin held her in contempt of court and sentenced her to five days in jail. Though Hulick’s contempt citation was eventually overturned by the appellate division, freeing Hulick to wear pants to court, the episode illustrated commonly held views about women’s apparel and place in society.
Up until the 1970s, courts assumed women’s proper roles were domestic and maternal, and “regularly uph[eld] sex-based distinctions under the logic of protecting women’s domesticity, maternal bodies, and sexual morals.” Supreme Court Justice Bradley once expressed that “[t]he constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood.”
Congress challenged these assumptions when it passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Though the Act was initially intended to combat discrimination in employment on the basis of race, Congress made the “last-minute addition of ‘sex’ to the forbidden grounds of race, color, national origin, and religion.” The passage of Title VII opened the floodgates to sex discrimination litigation, and whole categories of work that had only been available for one gender now presented opportunities for both men and women. “Extreme acts of employment discrimination have diminished” since the passage of Title VII; however, more subtle forms of prejudice remain, including different dress and grooming requirements for men and women in the workplace.
This Comment explains how employer-mandated sex-differentiated dress and grooming codes have become the “Title VII blind spot” and argues that this could be remedied in the Eighth Circuit by extending the Supreme Court’s sex stereotyping doctrine as applied in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.
Who Wears the Pants? Everyone Who Wants To: Expanding Price Waterhouse Sex Stereotyping to Cover Employer-Mandated Sex- Differentiated Dress and Grooming Codes in the Eighth Circuit,
99 Neb. L. Rev. 769
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol99/iss3/7