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Vox Publishes Article Saying Mike Pence’s ‘Never Dine Alone With a Woman’ Rule Is Illegal

Mike and Karen Pence / Getty
Mike and Karen Pence / Getty
• March 31, 2017 12:09 pm

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Vox published an article on Friday claiming that Vice President Mike Pence's personal rule to never have a one-on-one dinner with a woman who isn't his wife is illegal.

The Washington Post published a profile of Pence's wife Karen on Tuesday, noting that in 2002 he stated that he doesn't have one-on-one dinners with any woman other than his wife. The behavior is common among religious conservatives, but that didn't stop Vox from declaring the practice was illegal and sexist.

Employment lawyer Joanna L. Grossman wrote the Vox article titled, "Vice President Pence’s ‘never dine alone with a woman' rule isn’t honorable. It’s probably illegal." In her piece, Grossman argued that the Vice President's rule violates Title VII as sex discrimination.

Nonetheless, the practice described by Pence in that 2002 interview is clearly illegal when practiced by a boss in an employment setting, and deeply damaging to women’s employment opportunities.

Title VII, which governs workplace discrimination, does not allow employers to treat people differently on the basis of certain protected characteristics, one of which is sex. This means that an employer cannot set the terms and conditions of employment differently for one gender than for the other. This includes any aspect of the relationship between employer and employees — extending to benefits like equal access to the employer.

Later in her piece, Grossman cited an Iowa Supreme Court case where a dentist sued his hygienist for being too attractive. The court ruled in favor of the dentist, saying his reasoning for firing the hygienist was not sex discrimination because the firing was over an interpersonal relationship, not the woman's gender. Grossman criticized the court's ruling and said it proves that Pence's rule is illegal.

But even that deeply misguided court would understand that a policy or practice of excluding or avoiding female employees in general is unlawful. In its opinion, the Iowa Supreme Court distinguished between an "isolated employment decision based on personal relations … driven by individual feelings and emotions regarding a specific person" and a "decision based on gender itself." And if an employer "repeatedly took adverse employment actions against persons of a particular gender, that would make it easier to infer that gender … was a motivating factor."

Vice President Pence’s "policy" applies to all women — not just one in particular. That is why it runs afoul of Title VII.

Grossman linked Pence's rule to President Donald Trump's infamous 2005 Access Hollywood comments.

"We have a president who brags about grabbing women by the pussy — and a vice president who won’t even have dinner with them," Grossman writes. "These are two sides of the same coin, both reflecting the fundamentally unequal sphere working women inhabit because of male behavior."

The article was met with ridicule from evangelicals and conservatives.

Vox isn't alone in believing Pence's rule is problematic. The Vancouver Sun published an article on Friday calling Pence's refusal to eat alone with women "rape culture."