Thursday, August 24, 2017

Firing female employee because she is "too cute" violates state and city law

A debate is slowly emerging in the federal courts about what constitutes gender discrimination. Language in Title VII prohibiting discrimination "because of sex" is subject to different interpretations. In September 2017, the Second Circuit will hear oral argument on whether discrimination against gay and lesbian employees constitutes discrimination because of sex. In the meantime, the courts are working through less celebrated cases, like this one decided by the Appellate Division First Department.

The case is Edwards v. Nicolai, decided on August 22. This case is brought under the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws. Plaintiff worked as a yoga and massage therapist for the Wall Street Chiropractic and Wellness office. Nicolai is the head chiropractor. His wife is the chief operating officer. While plaintiff had a professional relationship with Nicolai, his wife did not like plaintiff. Here are the facts set forth in the complaint:

In June 2013, . . . Nicolai allegedly "informed Plaintiff that his wife might become jealous of Plaintiff, because Plaintiff was too cute.'" Approximately four months later, on October 29, 2013, at 1:31 a.m., Adams sent Edwards a text message stating, "You 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!!!!!!! And remember I warned you." A few hours later, at 8:53 a.m., plaintiff allegedly received an email from Nicolai stating, " You are fired and no longer welcome in our office. If you call or try to come back, we will call the police.'" The complaint further alleges that, on October 30, 2013, Adams filed a complaint with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) alleging - falsely - that Adams had received "threatening" phone calls from plaintiff that so frightened her as to cause her to change the locks at her home and business.
Does plaintiff's termination count as sex discrimination? Yes, says the Appellate Division. "It is well established that adverse employment actions motivated by sexual attraction are gender-based and, therefore, constitute unlawful gender discrimination." But plaintiff does not allege any sexual harassment. No matter. "While plaintiff does not allege that she was ever subjected to sexual harassment at WSCW, she alleges facts from which it can be inferred that Nicolai was motivated to discharge her by his desire to appease his wife's unjustified jealousy, and that Adams was motivated to discharge plaintiff by that same jealousy. Thus, each defendant's motivation to terminate plaintiff's employment was sexual in nature."

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