New York Court Revives Gender Discrimination Claim of ‘Too Cute’ Employee

A state appeals court revived a New York gender discrimination claim against the owners of a local wellness clinic. In addition to being co-owners, the defendants were husband and wife. One of the defendants, the husband, hired the plaintiff as a yoga instructor and massage therapist and acted as her direct supervisor. The plaintiff and her supervisor maintained a professional relationship over the course of her employment; however, her supervisor disclosed that his wife (and the co-owner of the clinic) might get jealous of the plaintiff because she was “too cute.”

Yoga pose

Months later, the plaintiff received threatening text messages from her supervisor’s wife. The messages stated that the plaintiff was not welcome at the clinic any longer and that she should stay away from her husband and her family. On the next morning, the plaintiff received an email from her supervisor, notifying her that her employment was terminated and that he would call the police if she returned to the office.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit in New York state court, alleging gender discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law. Under these laws, employers are prohibited from taking an adverse employment action against an employee when motivated by reasons related to the employee’s sex or gender, including, as the plaintiff argued, sexual attraction.

The plaintiff initiated an appeal after the lower court dismissed her claims for gender discrimination on the ground that there was not sufficient support for her claims. Specifically, the court reasoned that the plaintiff had to show that she was part of a protected class; however, the lower court concluded that attractive women were not a protected class.

On appeal, the court overturned the lower court’s decision and ruled that the plaintiff had stated claims for gender discrimination. The court noted that the plaintiff was frequently praised for her work performance and maintained a professional relationship with her supervisor. The court reasoned that the sole motivating factor for the defendants’ decision to terminate the plaintiff’s employment was because of her perceived sexual attractiveness. The termination became unlawful when the plaintiff’s supervisor terminated her employment because she was “too cute” to work with her, even if his decision was motivated by his spouse’s jealousy.

The court recognized that other cases permitted a supervisor to fire an employee at a jealous spouse’s request. However, all of those cases involved the employer and the employee carrying on a sexual relationship. In those instances, the employee engaged in an activity that formed a lawful basis for terminating the employee’s position.

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:

Do New York Employment Laws Prohibit Firing an Employee for Not Being Attractive?, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 24, 2017

Sexual Harassment Extends Beyond Employees and Co-Workers, Affects “Virtual Assistants”, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 20, 2016

New York Court Rules that Firing a Woman for Being Too Attractive is Not Sex Discrimination Under State or City Law, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 10, 2016

Photo credit: Lilianwhite (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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