Too Sexy for this Job?… Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

thermometer.jpgAs New York employment lawyers, we know first-hand that employment discrimination comes in many shapes and sizes. But, is the hourglass one of them?

That question has recently been raised by Lauren Odes, a woman who filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging gender discrimination and religious discrimination against her employer, Native Intimates, in New York. Native Intimates is a lingerie wholesaler that allegedly fired Lauren Odes because she was “just too hot for this office.”

Like New Jersey and many other jurisdictions, New York is an “at will” employment state, which means that in the absence of an employment contract, an employee or employer can terminate employment at any time for any (or no) reason and without notice. This benefits the employer, who is free to let go of an employee who isn’t aiding productivity. And, in some ways, it benefits the employee, who is free to seek a better opportunity with another employer.

There are, however, exceptions to “at will” employment based on discrimination. An employee may have a claim for wrongful termination if he or she is fired because of race discrimination, gender discrimination, age discrimination, or disability discrimination. The question now is, whether being terminated for being “too hot” or too sexy constitutes discrimination on the basis of gender.

Lauren Odes’ supervisor at Native Intimates allegedly told her she was “just too hot for this office.” The argument made by Odes’ attorney is that this is a statement unlikely to be made to a male employee. If true, there is a good chance that the supervisor’s statement constitutes gender discrimination, and the EEOC may agree that Lauren Odes has a claim for wrongful discharge. Moreover, the basis of Lauren Odes’ religious discrimination claim appears to be that her supervisors were offended by her attire on religious grounds, as well.

What are the obstacles to Lauren Odes’ claim for wrongful termination? One such obstacle would be if her employer, Native Intimates, produced an employee handbook with a dress code provision, along with evidence that Lauren Odes violated that dress code. In other words, if the employee dressed too sexy for her employer’s office, her supervisor’s comment could be interpreted in a way that makes gender discrimination unlikely. In such a case, the employer would argue that it produced evidence of a legal reason for termination, and it would be up to Lauren Odes and her employment attorney to prove that the stated reason was just a pretext for unlawful discrimination.

“At will” employment provides an employer great freedom in dismissing its employees, but it does not permit employers to discriminate against an employee on the basis of the employee’s race, gender, age, disability, or any other protected class. Therefore, if a female employee such as Lauren Odes is fired for being “too hot” or too sexy – and if such a reason is unlikely to be used to fire a male in her position – that employee may well have a claim for wrongful termination, even in “at will” employment jurisdictions such as New York and New Jersey.

The Resnick Law Group, P.C. has been advocating the rights of employees, and handling employment law matters on behalf of employees, for more than 30 years in and around New Jersey and New York City. If you feel your employer has violated your rights, contact the Resnick Law Group, P.C. at 973-781-1204 or 646-867-7997. We are located in Roseland, N.J. and Midtown Manhattan on Broadway.

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