We wrote last year about the dismissal of a claim by an employee who got fired because her boss’s wife was jealous of her good looks.
Well, her appeal may have been too much for the boss’s wife but it apparently was well received by the New York Supreme Court who reinstated her discrimination claims and ordered her case to proceed to trial.
Jealousy Is Green…So Is Money
Dilek Edwards worked as a yoga instructor and massage therapist at Wall Street Chiropractic and Wellness (“WSCW”), which was owned by the husband and wife team of Charles Nicolai and Stephanie Adams. Nicolai and Edwards worked quite professionally together, though Nicolai once remarked that Adams might become jealous because Edwards was “too cute.”
Nicolai’s prediction was spot on since Adams eventually texted Edwards to say that she was no longer welcome at WSCW and to “stay the f*** away” from Nicolai. The next day, Nicolai confirmed the termination via email, leading Edwards to sue for sex discrimination under state law and the city administrative code.
Edwards claimed that she was fired because of her looks and that this would not have happened to her if she was male. The lower court judge disagreed, noting that there was no implication that she was “treated differently than male employees,” or that she was fired because of her “status as a woman.” She was simply the target of a spouse’s jealously which is not a protected status under applicable law.
Lawsuit May Cost a Pretty Penny
The higher court reversed, explaining that firing Edwards to appease Adams’ jealousy over a potential romantic attraction was “sexual in nature” and that “adverse employment actions motivated by sexual attraction are gender based and, therefore, constitute unlawful gender discrimination.”
The court distinguished this case from those where employees were fired after consensual affairs with their employers. In those cases, there was no discrimination because the employees were dismissed due to their behavior, not their gender. In Edwards’ case, however, there as no behavior on her part that caused the termination – it was based purely on the jealousy over possible sexual attraction and that, in the eyes of the appeals court, was sufficient for a discrimination claim.
This is an unusual case which, if it isn’t settled, is likely to produce some interesting court decisions down the road.
For now, it seems that employment actions based on purely personal characteristics should be avoided since they may subject an employer to the whims of a court system that has not yet determined how such cases are to be decided.
Those of us who bear the burden of being too cute can therefore take some small comfort from the benefits afforded by this decision.