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Fired for Being “Too Cute”: New York Appellate Court Revives Gender Discrimination Claim

Employers in New York may have a whole new employment discrimination issue to be aware of.  On August 22, a New York appellate court revived a gender discrimination claim brought by a woman who claimed she was fired because she was “too cute.”

Hired as a yoga instructor in 2012, plaintiff Edwards worked for a husband and wife who co-owned a chiropractic and wellness facility.  Despite allegedly carrying on a purely professional relationship and receiving great praise for her work, Edwards was told by her male boss his wife was jealous of her because she was “too cute.”  In October 2013, Edwards was abruptly fired by the wife in a text message at 1:31am saying “[y]ou are NOT welcome any longer at Wall Street Chiropractic, DO NOT ever step foot in there again, and stay the [expletive] away from my husband and family!!!!!!!”  Edwards received an email the following day detailing her termination.

Edwards filed suit against the married duo alleging gender discrimination and defamation.  A lower court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, but that didn’t last long.  In its August 22 decision to revive the suit, a New York appellate court held Edwards has a recognizable claim for both defamation and gender discrimination.

The court reasoned it could be inferred by the facts the defendants’ motivation for terminating Edwards was “sexual in nature,” and such actions motivated by sexual attraction are gender based and constitute unlawful discrimination. The court disagreed with Defendants that such a ruling opens the door for claims of discrimination arising when an employee is terminated after a consensual affair with their married boss.  The court distinguished those circumstances from that of Edwards, since no inappropriate conduct has ever been alleged to have occurred between Edwards and her boss.  Their relationship was purely professional, and therefore it was not the employee’s actions which resulted in her termination; it was who she physically was as a woman. 

Edwards has a long way to go before she can claim victory on her gender discrimination claim, however this is just a nod in the direction New York is headed.  Employers need to assume every employee they have on their payroll can fit into some protected class if they try hard enough.  If an employer is going to terminate an employee, it is important to have a legitimate reason for doing so, and all performance issues leading to the decision should be fully documented. Don’t act on pure emotion or you can wind up in court.  

Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on civil rights issues and employment laws in general.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.