Massage therapist and yoga teacher Dilek Edwards claims that she was fired in 2013 from her job at a chiropractic clinic because her boss thought she was “too cute.” On May 11, a New York judged ruled that firing a woman for being attractive is legal and that it does not constitute employment discrimination. That’s right: If your boss thinks you’re just too sexy to be around, it’s apparently A-OK to fire you. Please excuse me while my head hits the desk.
Edwards began working for Wall St. Chiropractic and Wellness in April of 2012, when she was hired by owner Charles Nicolai. Nicolai’s wife, Stephanie Adams, is also co-owner. Edwards alleges that during her employment, Nicolai warned her that Adams might get jealous because Edwards was “too cute.” A few months later, Adams sent a text to Edwards, firing her and saying, “[S]tay away the f*ck away from my husband and family!!!!!! And remember I warned you.” Edwards claims that her relationship with Nicolai never went beyond the professional.
Edwards took her former employers to court, but this month Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Shlomo Hagler ruled that firing someone because of spousal jealousy is not discriminatory, and said that the “defendants’ behavior, no matter how abhorrent, fails to constitute gender discrimination.” He argued that “To state a claim for employment discrimination a plaintiff must allege that she is a member of a protected class,” and that attractive people don’t count as a protected class.
Maimon Kirschenbaum, Edwards’s lawyer, argued in turn that a woman's perceived attractiveness can't be separated so easily from her gender. He asked, "How can it be that a woman’s appearance to a male boss is not gender-related? If a male employer says to a woman ‘You cannot work here because you are not hot enough,’ wouldn’t that plainly be discrimination?” He added, “The idea that a married boss in New York can now fire an attractive woman on the grounds that he might be unable to control his sexual desires turns the law upside down. That’s his problem, not the woman’s.” Kirschenbaum said that Edwards would appeal the ruling.
This isn’t the first time that the courts have upheld the legality of firing a female employee for being too attractive. In 2010, a dentist in Iowa fired his dental assistant, with whom he had worked for a decade, because “he was becoming attracted to [her].” The fired assistant, Melissa Nelson, filed an employment discrimination suit against her former boss, James Knight, but the Iowa State Supreme Court ultimately ruled in 2012 that it is completely legal to fire an employee “simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.”
In a 2013 New York Times article, Debora L. Spar, president of Barnard College and author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, described cases like Nelson’s and Dilek Edward’s, in which women have been fired for being attractive, as “absurd, full stop.” She added, “It’s insane that in 2013 the fact of women’s appearances is having this much weight in the workplace.” The fact that nothing appears to have changed in the three years since then may not be particularly surprising, but it sure is depressing.