Today I got a letter from my office's conduct and conflict resolution department stating I allegedly made "sexist comments on two occasions to an anonymous female student".

At my current working environment, where all students are aged between 20 and 24 and banter going back and forth in the office is the norm. (see examples in edit 2)

Me and a co-worker were talking about gender roles in North American society and particularly about how women are susceptible to paying a pink tax on feminized marketed products, female to male wage gaps, and male prioritization in leadership positions. As we were discussing this out loud in the office there were several females present, I do admit I did make subtle remarks on the status quo of females in the workplace, I wasn't open-endedly offending women or making extreme sexist claims but I was stating my perspective on women in the workplace while keeping a civilized tone and neutral argument.

As far as I can remember, multiple people were in and out of the office and the discussion going on could have leaked around to the wrong set of ears, and one particular woman in the office that sits across from me absolutely despises the fact that I make more money than her simply because of the fact that I work in I.T and she works in customer service and my work consists of dealing with 0% of peoples bullshit ( i would envy myself too if I were in her position, and I have stated that the wages should be the other way around to her but evidently that is not how our business runs and I don't decide how the budget is made, HR does that).

I have a court hearing at the end of this working week where I will discuss with my rival colleague who at this point remains anonymous but I highly suspect is the woman who sits across from me the issues pertaining to the alleged "sexist comments" directed toward this anonymous female who felt offended.

What do I say in this open court hearing in order to save my reputation and keep my current job.

EDIT: 5/30/2019 ~ This is at a state university office in the united states for everybody's updated perspective on the employment environment. We are ALL student employee's in the office and problems in the workplace undergo an internal legal due process. I now see that my remarks were misunderstood by the anonymous female and I should be more wise about conversing about sensitive topics in the workplace in order to avoid controversy from fellow peers.

This post garnered more attention than I initially thought would be possible and I have taken into consideration everybody's point of view on how to resolve this conflict in a professional and respectful way during my court hearing on June 7th.

  • 3
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    May 30 '19 at 11:24
  • 14
    Asking what you should say in court is asking for legal advice. That makes this question off topic. May 30 '19 at 12:59
  • 6
    @IDrinkandIKnowThings +1. If this has already escalated to the point of making a court appearance, OP should be talking to a lawyer about this, not to the internet.
    – Steve-O
    May 30 '19 at 13:17
  • 4
    The OP's listed location is the United States. I highly expect that the term "court hearing" was used erroneously or facetiously. May 30 '19 at 14:10
  • 10
    In your penultimate sentence, why is she a "girl" and not a woman, or colleague, or similar?
    – Paul
    May 30 '19 at 14:29

What do I say in this open court hearing in order to save my reputation and keep my current job.

You simply answer all questions fully and honestly, and give your side of the story.

There's not much else you can do here.

I have a court hearing at the end of this working week where I will discuss with my rival contemporary who at this point remains anonymous but I highly suspect is the girl who sits across from me the issues pertaining to the alleged "sexist comments" directed toward this anonymous female who felt offended.

Try not to make such assumptions/accusations. They won't be helpful to you during this session.

Just deal with whatever is actually asked or presented without speculation.

  • 58
    And when you do respond, use the term 'woman' instead of 'girl' or 'female'. Unless you usually refer to men as 'boys' and 'males'. May 29 '19 at 21:37
  • 32
    The words without speculation should be emphasized. The question is riddled with pre-emptive defensive content based on things the OP assumes are most likely to have happened (including the guess as to the complainant). It's also true that the OP having expressed their perspective in a "civilized tone and neutral argument" provides zero defense against the charge. Clear, direct answers to the questions as asked are the OP's best bet (regardless of the outcome).
    – Upper_Case
    May 29 '19 at 21:49
  • 10
    @thursdaysgeek I highly disagree with "female" or "male" being anywhere near offensive. In fact, this is the most neutral term if you want to prove your point with something like statistical data, i.e. "75% of female workers prefer cashew peanuts, while male workers mostly prefer pistachios"
    – Rachey
    May 30 '19 at 9:08
  • 16
    @Rachey It is neutral in this context but there are groups of people who commonly refer to "females" to describe them as some kind of "other" in a derogatory fashion, as opposed to it being a simple descriptor (in the same way racists will use the term "blacks" to describe black people, or homophobic people use "gays" when referring to gay people). I'm not saying that this is the OP's intent, just that it's not totally unreasonable that it may be construed as such. May 30 '19 at 9:20
  • 12
    Who said it was offensive? And the comment you originally applied to totally appears to agree with the sentiment of your first sentence (as do I). All I'm saying is that when you are attending a hearing for alleged sexist comments, it's best to avoid using the parlance commonly adopted by sexist groups. May 30 '19 at 9:40

I do admit I did make subtle remarks on the status quo of females in the workplace.

The first lesson is to not discuss topics of gender, race, religion, politics, ethnicity, etc. If you don't engage in these conversations then you are removing any possibility of your receiving any repercussions of these types of conversations.

As to what you should do in your hearing, as Joe stated in his answer, answer any and all questions honestly and sincerely.

Leave your personal issue with your peer out of it. Take accountability for your actions. Even if your peer was the one who reported this, you've admitted to making some statements... so own up to them.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    May 30 '19 at 16:37

Your attitude in that meeting is of vital importance. You need to be sincere and apologetic.

DO NOT be sarcastic or defensive, or make any attacks at all towards the complainer (if they are there). It's probably best to minimise your interaction with them as much as possible.

Your general tone should be "I was making some general lighthearted comments to a friend which in hindsight were a bit stupid and, I can see now, sexist (see EDIT). They weren't aimed at any specific individuals. I'm truly sorry for any offense caused to anyone. It won't happen again.".

It is likely that your managers cannot really be bothered with this but feel like they need to give it due process. They will probably not be looking to crucify you over it: instead, it's likely that they want a genuine contrite apology from you, and some assurance that it won't happen again, so everyone can then get on with their lives. Give them what they want.

This is all assuming that you have given us the real story of what happened. Either way, I think it's the best way to proceed.

And, don't talk about stupid sexist crap like "Men are better drivers because of video games." in the workplace. Or, ideally, anywhere.

EDIT - a few people have pointed out it may be strategically unwise to admit that your comment was sexist. I'm inclined to agree - leave that specific word out, but still keep it contrite.

  • 12
    Being apologetic when you do not concede that you said anything wrong is the wrong approach, and gives off the wrong vibe. It immediately signals that even you think there is something to apologize for, which skews the observation towards the accuser. Apologize for causing a misunderstanding is fine, but not apologizing for something you never did, because that is an admission of guilt.
    – Flater
    May 30 '19 at 13:20
  • 3
    It doesn't sound like the OP is genuinely sorry for any offense caused. If genuine contrition is not present do you advise faking it?
    – Myles
    May 30 '19 at 13:57
  • 7
    Do not state that you agree the comments were sexist. You can say you won't be discussing these issues at work anymore to avoid any conflict (assuming that you will be choosing to do so going forward), but openly stating you believe you have been sexist is just asking for them to sack you.
    – jpmc26
    May 30 '19 at 15:03
  • 3
    Max, can you define what you mean by "stupid sexist crap"? It seems to me that the word sexism is thrown around a lot in the modern world, yet rarely defined, and there's a scope fallacy surrounding it too. In particular, to argue that sexism is morally wrong, it has be given a very restrictive scope, for example "discrimination on the basis of gender" - which is btw still not restrictive enough to make anywhere near to a cogent point that sexism is unethical. And yet it's used as an accusation with a very wide scope ("sexist remark", etc.) For this reason, I'm very skeptical of this word... May 30 '19 at 15:47
  • 3
    This is a TERRIBLE answer. OP, DO NOT under any circumstance "admit" that you were being sexist. Apologizing will absolutely not help you here. The fact that this court hearing has essentially been arranged behind your back suggests that the woman in question will not be forgiving. You should not apologize to these people, or they will just keep coming at you.
    – Hugo Zink
    May 30 '19 at 17:11

Well, this is very unfortunate. In my opinion, a lot of innocent people are hurt by the kinds of crazy laws that are apparently being used against you. And, it's natural to feel angry in this situation. That's fair enough; in my opinion, you should be angry. Indeed, I'm angry on your behalf. However, what you mustn't do is let that anger control you:

  1. Do not retaliate against the person you believe brought the case against you. For starters, the way the legal system is meant to work, is people can make a case, and the court decides whether that case has merit. We're meant to be free to file cases against people - it's part of the system. Also, note that in most jurisdictions, there's anti-victimization laws protecting people who have made complaints.

  2. When in court, do not attack the bullshit values that have led the woman under question to decide that you deserve to be hurt, and do not criticize the bullshit laws that are putting you at risk for doing roughly nothing wrong. This is a court of law; if the law says "sexist remarks are to be punished" and you're found to be guilty of having made a sexist remark, it won't matter if you articulately argue that the relevant laws are immoral; they're still the law.

So, what you really need to do is talk to a lawyer.

However, I'll share my probably naive opinion about how to play this one. With one caveat, I'd like to agree with Melferas excellent answer. In particular, I agree with this bit:

You have a good base so far:

  • The denounce is actually misleading, you did not make sexist comments toward any colleague or student, as you did not talk to them (or about them) at any point.

  • You were allegedly just discussing economic and social topics and their repercussion on women, you are not against women nor you hold any opinions that could be regarded as negative for them.

Yes, yes, yes. Exactly; the context suggests that you were probably not being "sexist" and your remarks were just misunderstood. In particular, you were saying a lot of left-leaning stuff; these kinds of laws are typically designed to force people to not say stuff contrary to what the left wants them to say, so the fact that you were already leaning that way is an advantage that will keep you alive if you play it right.

However, instead of outright lying as Melferas suggest (which I consider morally wrong), I recommend just emphasizing the above points while apologizing and seeming remorseful. I realize you're probably not remorseful; like me, you're angry that freedom of speech is being trampled on and that innocent people are being harmed by stupid values. But to get through this, you need to eat your ego, play the victim, and talk around the point w/o outright telling a lie. I'll add that, in my opinion, taking steps to appear remorseful is not a lie, and is ethically permissible in this context, because it's unjust that there's a possibility you'll be punished when really, you've done nothing wrong.

With that in mind, here's some good talking points:

  • I'm sorry if I made the complainant feel unwelcome, however my point was not that male prioritization in leadership positions is ethical, my point was really that it's unethical.

  • We were discussing issues with the status quo. My point was not that the status quo is acceptable, merely that there's a real issue there. There are gender differences in the opportunities that are available, that's just the truth - but I wasn't saying that this is okay, in fact I think the opposite is the case. etc.

Don't go and make up any lies, but you should omit those parts of the truth that will lead you to be unjustly punished. And, ask your friends to talk around the issue too. You don't want them saying: "Well, technically he's guilty. But he's a good guy, you know, we were just joking around." Remember, this is a court of law. If the law says one thing, that's what the law says. Don't argue about the law. Just be respectful and as not-guilty-seeming as you can be w/o saying something that's not true.


What do I say in this open court hearing in order to save my reputation and keep my current job.

I suggest you analyse what you have said that may be considered sexist, and show to the court that you understand why it may be considered that way. However, you should make clear how your prejudice has a reason to it, but if that reason is not firm enough or proven wrong easily then you should apologise to the plaintiff to protect your reputation and work, and also because it is the right thing to do.

As per your given example...

An example I said was that a majority of women that end up in car accidents is part due to the lack of high response time activity participation during adolescence and childhood, compared to male drivers that regularly engage during their early years in video games & sports, these activities require fast hand-eye coordination and develop our cognition to have quicker response times which translate to our driving during adulthood and cause us to have less frequent collisions compared to female contemporaries.

You have assumed that women play less video games/sports or generally don't participate in quick response time activities. There is a study proving women have a slower response time that you can reference in your court hearing (I do not know much about it other than that the group studied were medical students), and in your defence at least you didn't try to attribute this to the biological factors, instead you chose to attribute this to the separation of activities for males and females, so maybe to win reputation back you could talk about how you don't believe this to be biological and might be due to social gender roles instead.

The tip of the iceberg really is that this led you to 'assume' that men have less frequent collisions which is in fact false. Any simple search will prove this to be wrong. Men have more collisions, as men take more risks, which has been proven by many studies. Also, collisions caused by men tend to be more serious.

However, it would be sexist for me to assert that men are bad drivers, as the truth is that some people are bad drivers, and some are not, and it is likely nothing to do with sex but things like financial stability (there are more single mothers than single fathers and women generally earn less, so they might be less willing to take risk with their car, for example). It is also not respectful to the men in the office that are just trying to focus on their work, but have to listen to this unfair assertion instead. Think about how you would feel if a women started talking about sexual and non-sexual violence statics, and has therefore labelled all men as violent and abusive, just like you just put all women into one basket when it comes to driving. This sort of thinking is dangerous and destroys our integrity.

I indeed do believe it is not appropriate to group people into their gender stereotypes, and it is perfectly understandable why your colleague has carried out these steps against you. Whether sexist or not, you should understand why it wasn't an appropriate work conversation and apologise. I hope you do not only do so because you will be facing the court, but also because it is wrong to spread negatives that target and affect the reputation of a certain sex/race/religion, rather than the group of people for example directly responsible for car accidents, especially at work.

Edit: Hopefully made it easier for OP to understand why it was wrong to say these things, so that he can give a genuine apology.


What you should say: I apologize for not realizing that some of my statements may have been more controversial than i thought. I did not intent to relate this statements to any professional capability of my co-workers, but I understand that some of my statements may have been seen as generalizations with a disputed statistical reasoning. I will try avoid to make such comments in the future and will not state facts about gender statistics, which is not a professional competence of mine.

  • 1
    If this were a casual conversation over a complaint then I'd be likely to agree. But if this has gone as far as a court hearing, that may not be a great idea as you're effectively admitting guilt. I'd instead advise simply honestly answering any questions that are put forward to you, rather than coming out with a general statement based on what you think someone may have been offended by.
    – berry120
    May 30 '19 at 11:36
  • @berry120: where does this admit guilt? It admits being misunderstood, and rejects being sexist.
    – Sascha
    May 31 '19 at 6:55
  • If you're saying any negative like this, especially in a court setting, you're basically admitting to what you didn't want/intend/mean to do. So with this, you're saying you made controversial statements, related those statements to the professional capacity of your co-workers, and those statements were nothing more than generalisations based on incorrect statistics, in an area that you're not an expert. That's not something I'd be advising anyone to admit to in a court hearing.
    – berry120
    May 31 '19 at 8:08

So I want to subscribe parts of the rest of the answers: Be careful what you talk out loud about in the workplace, don't make assumptions (what if the woman you're talking about is not the one who denounced you?) and speak properly (woman vs girl/female).

Now, to help you achieve your goal (keep job/rep) there's one thing the other answers got wrong for me: you have to lie.

It seems you made quasi-sexist comments, they may or not be sexist, but that depends on the country, and in most first world countries they'll be so ready to jump at you for the smallest thing. Because we are here to help you, the best thing for you is to start watching what you say and try not to be, well, sexist. But we also want you to keep your job, so start making up a lie.

You have a good base so far:

  • The denunciation is actually misleading, you did not make sexist comments toward any colleague or student, as you did not talk to them (or about them) at any point.
  • You were allegedly just discussing economic and social topics and their repercussion on women, you are not against women nor do you hold any opinions that could be regarded as negative towards them.

So, some tips to try and save the situation:

  • Do not expand on your answers. Be brief and neutral about matters. If your "adversary" says she heard you say something else or that you were strongly opinionated, either play "he said, she said" or say she must have misunderstood, as you were merely repeating some arguments you heard online about the matter.
  • You have to give a good impression. Be calm, polite and, above all, willing to cooperate. Be like that to your adversary too, if they get mad your chances of winning go up exponentially as they will make more mistakes.
  • In this context, proof is worth nothing and witnesses are way more important. Tell your closest friends to deny you being sexist all just in case they are questioned. They may also "not remember exactly" what you said, but that it was reasonable and in favour of women.

And also please remember, a lie is an effort, it requires care and planning, but in these instances where the odds seem stacked against you, it's the best you can do. And now I expect to be severely told off.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user44108
    Jun 3 '19 at 7:03