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Law professor calls Rokita's opinion on pronoun use in workplace 'counterproductive'

Todd Rokita holds up his hand in greeting. Rokita is a White man with dark, slightly graying hair, wearing a dark suit.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
Attorney General Todd Rokita issued an advisory opinion about what federal and state laws say about pronoun use in the workplace.

One law professor says an advisory opinion from Attorney General Todd Rokita on pronoun use in the workplace is “counterproductive” for employers.

The attorney general’s guidance said no federal or state law requires employees to use the correct pronouns or names of other employees.

University of Missouri law professor Rigel Oliveri said under federal law, only employers can be sued. However, she added that employers can be held liable for their employees’ harassing behavior.

“If that employer has not taken reasonable steps to prevent such activities from taking place,” Oliveri said.

New guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said federal law’s anti-discrimination and harassment provisions include gender identity and sexual orientation.

READ MORE: Indiana's slate of anti-LGBTQ+ bills part of national fight over 2020 Supreme Court decision

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Oliveri acknowledged that there hasn’t been a lot of litigation on pronoun use in the workplace. But she said courts will find the federal guidance persuasive.

“So, if an employer wants to protect itself, it’s going to do the opposite of what the attorney general seems to be advising and actually instruct its employees to be respectful of one another’s pronouns and gender identity,” Oliveri said.

Rokita’s opinion noted that it’s “unsettled” whether repeated refusal of one employee to use another’s correct pronouns creates a hostile work environment.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.