Yoga instructor and massage therapist Dilek Edwards in 2013 (New York Post/Chad Rachman)
Even under New York’s liberal employment discrimination laws, a woman fired for being “too cute” does not have a claim for gender discrimination, a Manhattan judge ruled May 11.
Dilek Edwards alleged she was fired because of a jealous perception by her boss that Edwards was attractive to her husband, with whom Edwards worked, and threatening to their marriage.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Shlomo Hagler ruled that a spouse’s jealousy was a lawful reason for termination, citing cases from other jurisdictions holding that attractive females are not a protected class under discrimination law.
Hagler noted those cases found that “with respect to whether appearance can be the basis of a discrimination claim under other statutory authority, courts have not found discrimination when the subject conduct or policy was not applied differently to men and women.”
He said in Edwards v. Nicolai, 160830/13, that the “defendants’ behavior, no matter how abhorrent, fails to constitute gender discrimination.”
Edwards was hired in 2013 as a yoga instructor and massage therapist at the Financial District practice of chiropractor Charles Nicolai, co-owned with his wife, Stephanie Adams.
Edwards, who was 32 when she was fired, alleged in her complaint that more than a year into her employment, Nicolai told her his wife might become jealous because Edwards was “too cute.”
Edwards said she had met Adams only once and it was a cordial encounter.
She said her relationship with Nicolai had been “strictly professional” and that Nicolai had praised Edwards’ work performance throughout her employment.
But four months after the “too cute” remark Edwards received a text from Adams “out of the blue” stating: “You are NOT welcome any longer at Wall Street Chiropractic, DO NOT ever step foot in there again, and stay … away from my husband and family! And remember I warned you.”
Adams also made a complaint to police, alleging Edwards had made threatening phone calls. Edwards then asserted a defamation claim against Adams stemming from the police report.
Hagler said he was unable to find a case interpreting either New York state or New York City Human Rights Law which “holds that a termination motivated by spousal jealousy alone, constitutes gender or sex-based discrimination.”
Edward’s attorney, Maimon Kirschenbaum, a partner at Joseph & Kirschenbaum, argued that Section 8-102(23) of the city’s Human Rights Law defines “gender” to include “a person’s gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression.”
Hagler concluded the section applied only to “matters involving transgender or gender identity issues.” Even taking into account that the city Human Rights Law’s “uniquely broad and remedial purposes, which go beyond those of counterpart state or federal civil rights laws,” he found Edwards’ claim was “insufficient to withstand a pre-answer motion to dismiss.”
He declined to dismiss Edwards’ defamation claim.
Nicolai and Adams were represented by Douglas Wigdor, a partner at Wigdor, LLP.
“We are pleased with Judge Hagler’s decision that alleged jealousy does not amount to gender discrimination and are confident that the remaining cause of action will ultimately be dismissed on summary judgment,” Wigdor said in an email.
Adams contested the allegations when they were filed in an interview with the New York Post. She noted she had been the Playboy Playmate of the Month in 1992, and asserted she has no reason to be concerned about her husband’s possible attraction to Edwards. “No disrespect to anyone, but I’m a centerfold,” she told the Post.
Kirschenbaum said the ruling would be appealed.
“How can it be that a woman’s appearance to a male boss is not gender-related?” he asked. “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 continued: “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.”