New York Court Rules that Firing a Woman for Being Too Attractive Is Not Sex Discrimination Under State or City Law

flirtationFederal, state, and city laws in New York City protect workers against discrimination in employment on the basis of sex. A recent ruling from a New York County Supreme Court, however, held that a situation that might appear like sex discrimination, as well as a prelude to sexual harassment, is not actionable under New York state or city law. Edwards v. Nicolai, et al., No. 160830/2013, decision/order (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Co., May 13, 2016). The plaintiff filed suit after her employer allegedly fired her for being “too cute.” Id. at 2. The defendant employers are husband and wife, and the plaintiff alleges that the wife fired her “out of the blue” after telling her to “stay…away from [her] husband.” Id. The plaintiff stated that she had no inappropriate interactions whatsoever with the husband. The court primarily relied on out-of-state decisions.

The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibit sex discrimination in employment. Courts across the country have held that sexual harassment is a form of unlawful sex discrimination. The situation presented in the Edwards case apparently did not involve sexual harassment or any harassment of any sort until the defendants fired the plaintiff. The defendants allegedly concluded that the plaintiff’s presence in the workplace created an unacceptable risk of sexual impropriety.

An Iowa Supreme Court decision, Nelson v. Knight, 834 N.W.2d 64 (Iowa 2013), addressed an almost identical question. The court held that it did not constitute unlawful sex discrimination under state law for an employer to fire “a long-time female employee” solely “because the employer’s wife, due to no fault of the employee, is concerned about the nature of [their] relationship.” Id. at 65.

The plaintiff in Edwards worked as a “yoga and massage therapist” at the defendants’ Manhattan chiropractic practice for approximately 18 months, beginning in April 2012. Edwards at 2. The defendant husband was the plaintiff’s direct supervisor, while the wife was the chief operating officer and co-owner of the business. The plaintiff stated in her complaint that her relationship with the husband was “strictly professional,” and her one meeting with the wife was “cordial.” Id. at 3.

The situation abruptly changed, according to the plaintiff, in late October 2013. She alleged that she received a text message from the wife at about 1:15 a.m., telling her that her employment was terminated immediately. An email allegedly sent by the wife the following morning said that she would call the police if the plaintiff tried to come to the office. She also allegedly filed a police report, falsely stating that the plaintiff had made threatening phone calls to the office.

The plaintiff sued both defendants for sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and wrongful termination. She also asserted a cause of action for defamation against the wife, based on the police report. The court dismissed all of the plaintiff’s claims except defamation, ruling that the defendant wife’s “jealousy” was insufficient to support a discrimination claim. Id. at 12. It relied almost exclusively on out-of-state cases, including Nelson and decisions from the Eighth and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal.

The gender discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates fight for the rights of New York City employees and job seekers in claims of sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and other employment practices that violate the law. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our skilled and experienced legal team.

More Blog Posts:

Former Teacher at New York City Day Care Center Alleges Sexual Harassment in Federal Lawsuit, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 27, 2016

Former Hospital Employee’s Lawsuit Demonstrates the Short Distance Between Sexual Harassment and Pregnancy Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 24, 2015

Employer Who Fired Worker Because of His Attraction to Her Did Not Commit Unlawful Gender Discrimination, Court Rules, New York Employment Attorney Blog, December 13, 2012

Photo credit: Eugene de Blaas [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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