“Bro Culture” from Unconscious Bias to Overt Harassment


By Ward Heinrichs Esq., San Diego Employment Attorney



The “Me Too” movement started in 2017.  It ushered in an era of increased scrutiny of sexual harassment and Discrimination. One common theme in many lawsuits filed after the “Me Too” movement started was termed “Bro Culture”. What does that mean?

ON BIG BLEND RADIO:  California Employment Law podcast with San Diego attorney Ward Heinrichs focuses on the legal issues surrounding “Bro Culture.” Watch on YouTube or download the podcast on Acast.

One pundit described it this way: “‘Bro culture’ describes a culture that prioritizes young macho men with obnoxious and toxic behavior above all else.”  But that definition leaves out more subtle forms, and those subtle forms are much harder to address.  A more inclusive definition is: “In accepted culture of biases manifested in behaviors and decisions that support the exclusion of women.

A seminal sex discrimination case was Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989).  After Ms. Hopkins was passed over for partner, a male colleague said she should dress, walk, and talk more femininely, among other things. The Supreme Court said that discriminatory gender stereotyping is a form of sex discrimination: “An employer who acts on the basis of a belief that a woman cannot be aggressive . . . has acted on the basis of gender.”

Sometimes stereotyping is more subtle. If a male boss regularly invites male employees to hit golf balls but does not invite his women employees, that can be stereotyping and, under the wrong circumstances, could be workplace gender discrimination.  Even referring to women in the workplace as “girls”, “gals”, or “ladies” could be forms of stereotyping, depending on the context.

Certainly, outright sexual banter between male employees that female employees overhear can create a hostile work environment. (See, Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., (11th Cir. 2010) 594 F.3d 798.) Even when women are not around, such private banter can encourage harassing behavior when women are later present.

More recently, the California Civil Rights Department settled a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, a video game company. That industry was male-dominated, and Activision’s workforce was about 80% male. The Department said that Activision allowed and at times encouraged sexual misconduct towards female employees, that the company maintained a frat boy culture, and that the company’s hiring and employment practices were discriminatory against women.

At its height, one female employee allegedly committed suicide after suffering sexual harassment that included passing around nude photos of her. Recently, on December 15, 2023, the Civil Rights Department announced that Activision had settled for $54 Million.

The stereotypes promoted by Bro Culture can prevent women from getting fair treatment in the workplace.  At its worst, it can cause devastating mental suffering.  Even when it manifests itself unconsciously, the result can be a costly lawsuit.  When it is overt and promotes a “frat boy culture”, the payout can shake, even a large business, to its core.


Bro culture’: What it is and why it’s still an issue, breathe, January 5,2024 by Sarah Benstead

Recognizing and Addressing “Bro Culture” and Other Barriers to Gender Inclusion in the Legal (and other) Industries, Employment Practices Solutions, 2020, Rachelle Weathersby, Esq.

California Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. Activision Blizzard, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 December 2023

Based in San Diego, California the Employment Law Office of Ward Heinrichs represents both employers and employees in almost all areas of labor law. He and his firm litigate cases that have been filed in many different parts of California. Visit www.BestEmploymentAttorneySanDiego.com      



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Based in San Diego, California the Employment Law Office of Ward Heinrichs represents both employers and employees in almost all areas of labor law.

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