Title VII does not prohibit all favoritism in the workplace. Recently, a sister discovered that her complaints to the family business about her brother’s affair with a company employee were not protected by Title VII.

The sister was the company’s human resources manager. Her two brothers were vice presidents. When one brother began an affair with an employee, the sister complained that the workplace became “permeated with sexual favoritism” toward the employee. The sister sued the company and her brothers for hostile work environment and retaliation. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of both claims: the sister did not have a reasonable, good-faith belief that this kind of favoritism was discrimination prohibited by Title VII. Kelly v. Howard I. Shapiro & Assoc. Consulting Engineers, P.C., et al., No. 12-3489-cv (2d Cir. April 26, 2013).

Not all unequal treatment in the workplace is illegal, and not all complaints about unequal treatment are legally protected. This family feud is a good example.