According to this article from Gawker, a thirty-something father claims he was fired for being a “brony.”
In case the term is new to you, urbandictionary.com defines “brony” as “A name typically given to the male viewers/fans … of the My Little Pony show or franchise.”
According to the report, the anonymous ‘brony’ had displayed his My Little Pony affinity in the workplace and had been told to stop. After repeated incidents of being told to stop displaying computer wallpapers or engaging in discussions about his love of My Little Pony, he claims he was fired for being a brony.
Here is the legal question – can the employer fire him for that reason? Initially, the answer would appear to be yes. Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment decisions on the basis of an individual’s membership in certain protected classes, like race, religion, national origin, etc. Not surprisingly, ‘brony’ status is not explicitly protected in the law, so it would appear that firing an employee for expressing a love of the children’s characters would not be illegal.
However, Title VII does prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, and that prohibition has been interpreted to prohibit what is known as “gender plus” discrimination. In other words, discrimination that is based on gender stereotypes and the individual’s failure to fit into those stereotypes can be actionable.
In this case, the question would be whether or not the termination was based on the employee’s failure to conform to a gender stereotypical view that men should not be fans of My Little Pony. If the termination was based on a view that it is unprofessional for adults of both genders to display My Little Pony items in the workplace, then it is not likely to be a violation of Title VII, but if it could be demonstrated that the employer’s action was limited to men only and the view of “gender appropriateness,” the employee may have a claim.
The report from Gawker does not indicate whether the employee plans to sue, but all employers need to remember that employment decisions that are made differently for men and for women can possibly lead to liability if based on gender stereotypes.