Rita Risser Chai replies:

There is no case directly on point. There are lots of cases where the manager calls a woman that and a lot of other names that are worse, and that’s been held to be illegal. There are also cases where the manager uses endearments, and then unfairly denies a woman pay increases, a promotion, or good job assignments, and that’s illegal. 

To show that endearments alone are harassment you would have to show that a reasonable woman would consider them harassing, meaning deeply offensive (not “merely” offensive). You also would have to show that it affected your ability to do your job—not because of your feelings, but because of how you were perceived by co-workers or clients, for example. 

Clearly, this violates your values, and it may violate company policy, so you may want to consider talking to HR. You also might say to your boss, “I know you don’t mean to be offensive, but I would prefer if you don’t call me that.” Both of those actions have some risks—things could get worse—but things might get better, too. You have to decide for yourself if it’s worth it. Good luck. 

Posted 02-26-2019

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.