It may sound absurd, but a New York City resident was fired from her job allegedly for being "too cute." The story actually boils down to an apparently jealous wife who was opposed to her husband hiring an attractive employee. The employee, Dilek Edwards, was a yoga instructor and massage therapist for a chiropractor. The chiropractor's wife and co-owner of the practice expressed her opinion that Edwards was “too cute” for the job. Edwards was ultimately terminated by the wife through a text message, which also warned the employee to stay away from her husband and family. Certainly, this was unfair, but was it discriminatory?
Is attractiveness a protected class under anti-discrimination laws?
The answer is no, at least not by federal anti-discrimination statutes.
Discrimination laws tend to be controlled by the federal government. However, individual states may add state laws, so long as they do not conflict with federal regulation. New York state added protection for groups not protected under the federal law. Under both New York and the federal law, neither has specified protection for individuals due to an attractive appearance. In Edwards’ case, her claim went before the state court.
This was not a case of gender discrimination
Following her termination, Edwards argued that she was discriminated against because of her gender. More specifically, she alleged she was terminated because of her “gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression.” However, the court disagreed, finding that whether an employer found an employee appealing is not an aspect of gender discrimination. More to the point, attractive individuals are not considered a protected class, so Edwards had no legal claim for discrimination.
Where protection against sex discrimination comes from
A federal statute known as Title VII prohibits many types of discrimination, including discrimination "because of" an employee's sex or gender. This means your gender cannot factor into any employment decision, including promotions, disciplinary action, hiring and termination. There is also the Equal Pay Act which calls for equal pay for equal work among men and women.
What is systemic gender discrimination?
Systemic discrimination consists of a pattern, practice, or policy where the alleged discrimination has a far-reaching impact on an industry, profession, company or geographic area. Examples of systemic practices include: discriminatory obstacles in recruitment and hiring; discriminatory restricted access to management trainee programs or high level jobs; exclusion of qualified women from traditionally male-dominated fields; disability discrimination in the form of unlawful pre-employment inquiries; age discrimination in reductions in force and retirement benefits; and compliance with customer preferences that result in discriminatory assignments and even termination.
If you feel you have been the victim of gender discrimination or retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.