The Dugger Law Firm, PLLC Has Filed a Sex Discrimination Class Action Against the NYC Department of Education, Principal Rashaunda Shaw, Ast. Principal Dayne McLean, and Ast. Principal Sharon Spann


The Dugger Law Firm, PLLC and The Law Office of Daniela Nanau, P.C. have filed a sex discrimination class action lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education, Globe School for Environmental Research (“Globe”) Principal Rashaunda Shaw, Globe Assistant Principal Dayne McLean, and Globe Assistant Principal Sharon Spann. 

Plaintiff Lisa B. Deleo alleges violations of Title VII, the New York City Human Rights Law, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The amended complaint alleges that Assistant Principal McLean repeatedly sexually harassed Ms. DeLeo, culminating in a confrontation in which Assistant Principal McLean sexually gyrated in front of Ms. DeLeo while she was alone in her office.  In addition, the amended complaint alleges that, following Ms. DeLeo’s complaints of harassment, the New York City Department of Education, Principal Shaw, Assistant Principal McLean, and Assistant Principal Spann retaliated against her because of her complaints.

The amended complaint also alleges that the New York City Department of Education, Principal Shaw, Assistant Principal McLean, and Assistant Principal Spann have created and/or permitted a sexually hostile and retaliatory hostile work environment for non-management female employees at Globe.

Ms. DeLeo seeks certification of a class of all non-management female employees at Globe, from January 2012 through the resolution of the lawsuit, against the New York City Department of Education, as well as Principal Shaw, Assistant Principal McLean, and Assistant Principal Spann in their individual capacities. 

The case is Deleo v. New York City Department of Education, No. 15 Civ. 00591, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The Dugger Law Firm, PLLC & Outten & Golden LLP File Sex Discrimination Class Action Against Connecticut Department of Correction

On January 14, 2015, Denisha Davis filed a sex discrimination class action complaint in the District of Connecticut against the Connecticut Department of Correction. 

The lawsuit follows earlier litigation in Easterling v. Connecticut Department of Correction, in which a federal court held in 2011 that the state fitness test violated Title VII and found for the job applicant plaintiffs.  The new lawsuit alleges that the state’s revised physical fitness test – which modified only one aspect of the test from a 1.5-mile run to a 300-meter dash – continued to have an adverse impact on women.

 The press release is available here.

Are Women Penalized for Being the First to Volunteer in the Workplace?

This very interesting NY Times opinion piece (and the studies is cites) is a must read for human resources personnel and members of management involved in making promotion decisions.

A short overview of the argument:

"Women help more but benefit less from it. In keeping with deeply held gender stereotypes, we expect men to be ambitious and results-oriented, and women to be nurturing and communal. When a man offers to help, we shower him with praise and rewards. But when a woman helps, we feel less indebted. She’s communal, right? She wants to be a team player. The reverse is also true. When a woman declines to help a colleague, people like her less and her career suffers. But when a man says no, he faces no backlash. A man who doesn’t help is 'busy'; a woman is 'selfish.'" (link)


New York Times: Gender Bias Case Against Sterling Jewelers Can Proceed

Available here and excerpted below:

"An arbitrator overseeing a gender discrimination case against Sterling Jewelers, parent of 12 chains in the United States including Kay Jewelers, has certified a class of thousands of women to proceed to trial.
Women in the class may pursue a claim challenging Sterling’s pay and promotion practices, the arbitrator, Kathleen A. Roberts, a retired United States magistrate judge at the dispute resolution company JAMS, said in a ruling Monday night." (link)

Former Urban Outfitters Clerk Sues For Co.'s Indifference to Customers' Sexual Harassment

From the NY Daily News:

"Tatiana Swiderski, 25, said her bosses at the Fifth Avenue store turned a blind eye [to] the harassment — refusing to call cops on the pervy patrons and holing her away in the stock room for complaining.
'They made it their mission to make me feel invalidated,' Swiderski told the Daily News. 'They tried to make me feel like I was a crazy over-reactor.'"
Now she's suing the chain for sexual harassment and retaliation."  (link)

Some of the details:

"The sexual assault came just two weeks after security told her a man had been following her and another employee with a video camera and shooting up their skirts as they went up the stairs. While the guards made him erase the video, they let him go and refused to call the police or tell her his name so she could do so. Her suit even claims that a guard mocked her.
After she complained to management, a security guard allegedly told her to “stop being a stupid bitch.” She also claims that a guard began patting her down as she left work, something she felt was sexually inappropriate and not done to other employees."  (link)

Not only are the details pretty horrifying but it appears to be a potentially industry-wide issue:

"A 2002 study in Canada found that harassment for these workers doesn’t just come from coworkers, but from customers, as it did for Swiderski, which constitutes a “significant problem.” A majority of women in retail said they had been sexually harassed by customers on the job, but given that companies are focused on satisfying the customer, women face constraints in how they can handle it and many are reluctant to bring it up."  (link)

According to the EEOC, it is a clear violation of federal discrimination law for an employer to take no action in response to harassment of employees by customers -- where it has notice of the conduct:

"The employer will be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control (e.g., independent contractors or customers on the premises), if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action."  (link)

The above response is, to put it lightly, clearly inadequate.

I was also struck by a throw away line in the middle of the NY Daily News. Interestingly -  the article notes that when Swiderski began working:

"She said there was an early sign of trouble — a co-worker told her she'd only been hired because she's 'tall, pretty, thin and white.'"  (link)

If that is accurate (which it may or may not be) Urban Outfitters may be headed for a repeat of  a large racial discrimination case brought by LDF regarding hiring for "the American look" at Abercrombie and Fitch:

"Th[at suit alleged that Abercrombie refused to hire qualified minority applicants as Brand Representatives working on the sales floor while discouraging applications from minority candidates. It also charged that in the rare instances when minorities were hired, they were given undesirable positions to keep them out of the public eye.
* * *
In November 2004, LDF and co-counsel reached a settlement with the company, winning $40 million dollars for rejected applicants and employees who had been discriminated against by the company. The settlement’s consent decree also required the company to institute a range of policies and programs to promote diversity among its work force and to prevent discrimination based on race or gender."  (link)

Of course this is just the hearsay statement of a co-worker.  But, if true, Urban Outfitters (or at least this store location) may also soon be facing suit on the race discrimination front.

It will be interesting to follow this case as it develops.

AARP: Asian Women Most Targeted Group for Age Discrimination in NYC

AARP's analysis found:

"[T]hat Asians report the highest percentage (37%) out of several major ethnicities (Black, Hispanic & White) in NYC when it comes to their, a family member or a friend not being hired for a job since hitting 50. For Asian women the issue is a particular problem, with the group citing age as an issue 43% of the time - a rate 13% higher than their male counterparts and 17% higher than the general 50+ population in the city."  (link)

Age discrimination is unique in that it has the potential to affect all employees at some point in their lives.  In addition, it appears that age discrimination, in some cases, also interacts significantly with and/or is exacerbated by race and sex factors. 


Can My Employer Discriminate Against Me Based on My Looks?

The combination of federal, state, and city laws provide something close to comprehensive protection from employment discrimination, at least for New York City residents.  Read together, these statutes make it is illegal to discriminate based on a substantial list of protected classifications including, race, gender, age, nationality, disability status, sexual orientation, and religion to name just a few. 

But what about attractiveness? 

When you give it some thought, or at least look at the research, it quickly becomes apparent that a person’s attractiveness has a very significant impact on his or her life prospects:

"The bias in favor of physically attractive people is robust, with attractive people being perceived as more sociable, happier and more successful than unattractive people.  Attractiveness biases have been demonstrated in such different areas as teacher judgments of students, voter preferences for political candidates and jury judgments in simulated trials." (link)

The bias is so strong that one study found that even identical twins evaluate each other more negatively or positively based on small differences in their relative attractiveness: "[t]he more attractive twin assessed the other as less athletic, less emotionally stable, and less socially competent. The less attractive twins agreed, ranking their better-looking siblings ahead [of the other]." (link) 

Strikingly, these disparities appear to have very real economic effects: a study found a $230,000 lifetime earnings advantage for more attractive people compared to their less attractive peers. (link)  The one notable exception to a "beauty bias" is apparently limited to instances where women seek employment in traditionally masculine positions. (link)

But, generally, attractive individuals benefit from an attractiveness premium throughout their lives.  As a result, less attractive, but completely competent applicants and employees are not given the same opportunities, even despite equal or superior work.

That seems, at a basic level, highly unfair - but is it illegal?

Do employers and supervisors have free reign to promote, protect, and advance the employees they perceive to be more attractive, just because they perceive these employees to be more attractive?

The short answer is technically -  yes - there is no direct protection from "attractiveness discrimination" under federal, New York State, and/or New York City laws.

Nonetheless, there are still several ways that New York employees, perceived by employers and/or supervisors as "less attractive," may have a claim for employment discrimination, even under the existing legal framework.

These legal theories are not "attractiveness discrimination" cases per se, but involve instances where attractiveness "requirements" are applied unevenly, have disparate impacts on protected groups, or are used as proxies for race or ethnicity.

1. “Beauty” Used as a Proxy for Race or Ethnicity

Even while "attractiveness discrimination" is not directly prohibited, employers that exclude members of protected classes through the proxy of perceived "beauty" requirements/restrictions that are tied to racial characteristics, may be engaging in discrimination.  For example, excluding all Black or Asian applicants for a position based on a perceived lack of “beauty” -- through the illegitimate proxy of a Euro ethno-centric beauty paradigm. 

So, hiring only blonde applicants, or otherwise hiring only applicants with a racially specific "look," could result in a claim for race discrimination.  This was roughly the cause of action pursued against Abercrombie & Fitch for its previous practice of hiring only those with a "classic American look."  (link) (link)

On the other hand, if an employer hires only attractive employees, but does so while hiring both men and women, as well as applicants from varied racial backgrounds, this practice is less likely to support a claim of discrimination. 

2. Workplace Only Advances Attractive Women

Imposing an attractiveness requirement on women, but not men, with respect to hiring or advancement means the employer is treating men and women differently, which may be grounds for a sex discrimination claim.  This was the type of claim brought against airlines that imposed harsher weight requirements on female flight staff than comparable male flight staff.  (link) (link). 

3. Disparate Impact Discrimination

Another approach is a disparate impact discrimination claim.  Under a disparate impact theory of liability an employee can point to an otherwise neutral policy that they allege is the cause of a (potentially unintentional) disparate impact on a protected classification.  

For example, a female employee could point to the use of pictures in a job application and attempt to establish that this policy resulted in potentially subconscious attractiveness biases affecting which applicants are offered an interview, in a way that disparately impacted women but not men (i.e. excluding less attractive women but not less attractive men and thereby hiring a smaller percentage of female applicants).  If this policy can be isolated as the reason for a gender disparity in hiring that disadvantages women as a group, a female applicant may be able to make out an initial case of disparate impact discrimination.  The employer would then be forced to establish that the challenged policy was job-related and/or supported by business necessity. 

A Possible Solution: Pass a Law?

The state of Michigan and at least a few other localities have passed statutes forbidding discrimination based on weight, height, and/or appearance.  For example:

"The cities of Binghamton, San Francisco and Santa Cruz prohibit discrimination against weight and height as well.  Madison, Wisconsin and Urbana, Illinois have ordinances banning discrimination based on a person’s “physical appearance” and “personal appearance” respectively, while Washington D.C. prohibits all forms of personal appearance discrimination."  (link)

Although attractiveness and weight are obviously not the same thing - they are often perceived as highly correlated.  Perhaps weight discrimination would be a good starting place to start to tackle appearance discrimination.  Importantly,  obese women are often treated poorly compared to obese men:

"One recent study revealed that higher body mass is associated with reductions in women's hourly wages, family income, and probability of marriage, with obese women experiencing a 17.51 percent reduction in wages from their standard weight counterparts. In striking contrast, the only significant negative effect of obesity for men is that they are less likely to marry."  (link)

Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications

Employers can attempt to show that "attractiveness requirements" are bona fide occupational qualifications that are reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise. But that is usually hard to establish because courts apply the exception very narrowly and it also does not apply to race discrimination claims.


It is worth noting that obesity, which is often seen as an unattractive trait (at least in American society), may, under certain circumstances, qualify as a disability under the ADA and additional state and local statutes.  When this standard is met it may provide anti-discrimination rights to an obese employee.


Why does this matter?  Is contemplating attractiveness discrimination statutes taking anti-discrimination protections a bit too far?

While it is may be a complicated issue I don’t think so.  I like Ruth Graham’s explanation:

Our preference for beautiful people makes us poor judges of qualities that have nothing to do with physical appearance—it means that when we select employees, teachers, protégés, borrowers, and even friends, we may not really be making the best choice.  It’s an embarrassing and stubborn truth—and the question is now whether, having established it, social researchers can find a way to help us level the playing field. (link)

Perhaps New York State or New York City should start with passing a weight discrimination statute to begin to address appearance discrimination.  Would it really hurt anybody to protect overweight individuals from employment discrimination?

Would the sky really fall if we took that step in New York?

I think it's likely to stay put.