Friday, February 12, 2021
Using Emerging Science of Women's Sex-Based Brain Differences of Emotional Harm to Support a Reasonable Woman Standard
Betsy Grey, Sex-Based Brain Differences and Emotional Harm, 70 Duke L.J. Online 29 (2020)
Technological advances have allowed neuroscientists to identify brain differences between women and men, which may lead to explanations for sex-biased population differences in behavior and brain-based disorders. Although the research is at its early stages, this is an appropriate time to examine some of the potential legal implications of these findings. This Article examines that question in the context of tort law, especially how scientific findings may affect the use of the reasonable person standard in emotional injury claims. Specifically, studies suggest that there may be distinct sex-based mechanisms involved in reactions to extreme stress, raising the question of whether women experience and process stress and trauma differently than men.
This Article argues that these studies may eventually inform the use of the reasonableness standard for freestanding emotional harm claims. As science further develops, courts may either apply a reasonable woman standard in limited contexts or at least allow jurors to consider evidence of sex-based differences in applying a reasonable person standard. Recognizing these differences, courts have already begun to apply the reasonable woman standard to hostile workplace environment claims, and science may support broader use of that standard, especially for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional harm claims.