Preston v. Wisconsin Health Fund
397 F.3d 539 (7th Cir. 2005)

Facts:
Preston, a dentist, charges that the Wisconsin Health Fund, his former employer, discriminated against him on account of his sex in violation of Title VII (reverse discrimination) when they replaced him as director of the Fund’s dental clinic with Linda Hamilton, an allegedly less qualified female.

  • There were rumors that Linda and the Fund’s CEO, Bruce Trojak, were having an affair.

History:
The District Court granted summary judgment for the Fund.

Issue:
Can favoritism resulting from a personal relationship be equated to sex discrimination violating Title VII?

Holding:
No. Affirmed.

Reasoning:

  • Such favoritism is not based on a belief that women are better workers, or otherwise deserve to be treated better, than men.
  • The effect on the composition of the workplace is likely to be nil, especially since the disadvantaged competitor is as likely to be another woman as a man – were Preston a woman, Trojak would still have fired her to make way for Hamilton unless Trojak was romantically entangled with both of them.
  • Preston also tried to point to the fact that Trojak had a habit of giving women large raises, but the court needed Preston to show more than that alone:
    • “We would need to know the sex composition of the Fund’s workforce, whether there were men who had jobs comparable to those of the five women but didn’t get similar raises, and whether the raises were due to the women’s being promoted to new jobs and if so whether men had a fair opportunity to compete for those promotions.”

Rule: A male executive’s romantically motivated favoritism toward a female subordinate is not sex discrimination in the Title VII context, even when it disadvantages a male competitor of the woman.