And “Alpha” Is Not Necessarily Code for Sex-Stereotyping Discrimination


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found that a manager’s use of the term “alpha” did not support the gay employee’s claim of sex discrimination.

In Thomas v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, the employee unsuccessfully applied for an Account Underwriter position as an internal candidate. He then requested a meeting with the hiring manager for feedback. In the course of the meeting, the hiring manager told the employee that he had not displayed the necessary leadership skills. The manager also said that if he were hiring for another position in the future, “I might not need a leader, I might have a bunch of alphas over there.” The employee subsequently sued the employer, arguing among other things, that as a gay male he did not conform to the “alpha” male sex-stereotype (sex-stereotyping is a type of sex discrimination claim under Title VII).

The Tenth Circuit found the “alpha” statement was not evidence of sex discrimination because it did not explicitly state anything discriminatory about the employee’s failure to conform to male sex stereotypes. Moreover, if a statement could plausibly be interpreted in two different ways – osne discriminatory and one not – then it does not qualify as direct evidence of discrimination. In this case, although there may be gender-based connotations for the term, one interpretation is a benign reference to leadership qualities.