Is Cuteness a Protected Characteristic?

By Leeds Brown Law | November 21, 2017

Yoga Teacher Fired for Being Cute May Have a Gender Discrimination Claim

You may have heard about a case filed by yoga instructor and massage therapist Dilek Edwards. In 2013, she sued her former employers Charles Nicolai and Stephanie Edwards, owners of the Wall Street Chiropractic and Wellness Center. Edwards claimed that Nicolai and Edwards terminated her employment for reasons that violated New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). She alleged that they fired her “for being too cute” and that doing so was gender or sex discrimination.

The Facts of The Case

In Edwards’ complaint, she set forth the following allegations:

  • At all times during her employment, beginning in 2011, Nicolai was her direct supervisor
  • At all times her relationship with Nicolai was purely professional
  • That Nicolai regularly praised her work
  • Sometime in 2013, Nicolai told Edwards that his wife, Adams, might become jealous because Edwards was too cute
  • Several months after that, Edwards received a text from Adams. The text message included a stern warning that she should stay away from Adams’s family and husband. The message also warned Edwards never to set foot at work again. Adams allegedly also threatened to call the police.
  • A few hours after that, Nicolai sent a text telling Edwards she was fired and no longer welcome at work

Trial Court Grants Motion to Dismiss

The trial court dismissed the case on May 11, 2016. Judge Shlomo Hagler in granting the Defendants’ motion, stated that Edwards produced no factual evidence that she got fired for any reason other than spousal jealousy. The judge said that there was no New York court precedent indicating that jealousy alone was sufficient to sustain a gender discrimination claim.

Additionally, the judge said that Edwards did not include enough information to demonstrate that being fired because of cuteness was “appearance-based discrimination” which might violate NYCHRL and NYSHRL. Judge Hagler explained that appearance-based discrimination historically involves differential treatment of men and women. With no indication that Nicolai terminated her for being a woman or treated her differently than a man, the judge could not allow the case to proceed.

Appeals Court Overturns Trial Court

A recent decision by the appeals court has given the lawsuit new life and has revived the possibility that if you get fired for being “too cute,” you may have a viable sex discrimination claim in New York.

The National Law Review reported; “that decision was overturned on appeal, with the court holding that “adverse employment actions motivated by sexual attraction are gender-based, and therefore, constitute unlawful gender discrimination.”

The court explained that one could reasonably infer that each defendant may have based their decision or desire to fire Edwards on sexual attraction. For Nicolai, it may have been to reassure his wife that there would be no sexual attraction. For Adams, it may have been to end what she believed to be sexual attraction between her husband and their employee. It logically follows that if employment decisions based on sexual attraction violate gender discrimination and sex discrimination laws, Edwards case should proceed.

According to the New York Post, the appeals panel stated that “was fired for no reason other than Adams’ belief that Nicolai was sexually attracted to her,” and that “This states a cause of action for gender discrimination under New York State Human Rights Law,”

Judge David Friedman, Judges Karla Moskowitz, Judith Gische, and Marcy Kahn participated in making this decision.

A Closer Look at Gender Discrimination in New York

Not all cases require as much analysis as Edwards v. Nicolai and many lawsuits settle before even getting to the trial stage. Lawsuits like this one, however, provide a good opportunity to remind people of the basics of sex discrimination in the workplace.

Gender discrimination occurs when an employer makes a decision based on sex or gender. Some examples of sex discrimination may include:

  • Refusing to hire someone because he is a man, or she is a woman
  • Having a policy of only promoting men
  • Paying women less than men when they do the same thing
  • Firing someone because she is a woman, or he is a man
  • Refusing to promote a qualified person because of his or her gender
  • Making assumptions about an individual’s ability to do work based on sex or gender
  • Sexual harassment
  • Firing someone for refusing to perform a sexual favor
  • Giving a bad performance review to someone because he or she refused your sexual advances

Do any of these situations sound familiar? If so, you may be the victim of gender discrimination which violates NYSHRL and NYCHRL. You may also have a claim of retaliation which the law also prohibits.

Contact Attorneys Filing Claims for Gender Discrimination and Sexual Harassment in New York

At Leeds Brown Law, P.C. our attorneys have spent decades representing employees who have experienced sexual harassment at work. We have achieved excellent results. Thousands of New Yorkers have benefitted from our representation in sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuits. We welcome the opportunity to hear the details of your case.

You can reach us 24/7 at 1-800-585-4658. Call Leeds Brown today and find out how you can recover monetary compensation and other relief when your employer violates your workplace rights.



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