Equal opportunity laws make discriminating against a woman based on her gender illegal. However, the law offers minimal protection to women in the workplace who are considered attractive or unattractive by employers. Unless other laws regarding discrimination or harassment are broken, most women fired based on appearance enjoy little recourse outside of civil court.
In July 2013, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against a lawsuit filed by a woman fired by her employer because he was attracted to her based on her physical appearance. The court explained that the termination was based on feelings instead of gender and was not in violation of anti-discrimination laws. The court also stated that in similar circumstances no other state had upheld a similar lawsuit. If you are fired based on your looks, consider speaking with an attorney to determine if legal action is appropriate in your unique situation, particularly if harassment took place prior to your termination.
When you receive unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, equal opportunity employment law protects you. Protest the sexual harassment when it occurs and document the incident by filing a report with your superiors based on company policy. If your superior is the harasser, contact his boss or the human resources department about your complaint. Filing a formal complaint and retaining a copy of your report provides you with documentation for future reference. If your employer does not end the harassment, submit a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and your state's employment office before filing a lawsuit.
Violation of Related Laws
Protection under equal employment opportunity laws extends beyond gender and also prohibits discrimination based on race, religion or status as a disabled individual. If a change in your personal appearance leads to discrimination and the change occurred because of a disability, the law protects you. For example, your boss can't discriminate against you for being obese as long as you can still perform your job with a reasonable accommodation. Also, an employer who finds certain ethnic groups attractive can't make employment decisions based on race.
When your employer maintains a dress code specifying appropriate and inappropriate workplace attire, follow the guidelines in order to avoid termination. Your employer can issue a warning and even fire you for arriving at work dressed in a manner deemed too provocative for the business, such as wearing a skirt shorter than the rules dictate. Unless your method of dress is covered under an alternate equal opportunity law, such as providing certain religious women with the opportunity to wear skirts instead of pants, the law will side with your employer.
- KWGC.com: Iowa Supreme Court Confirms a Woman Can Be Fired for Being too Attractive
- NOLO: Fighting Sexual Harassment
- NOLO: Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation
- Business Insider: It Might Be Harder To Fire People For Being Fat Now
- Business News Daily: Can You Really Be Fired for Being 'Too Hot'?
- Investor Place: Burger King Fires Teen Girl Who Can’t Wear Pants
Ashley Mott has 12 years of small business management experience and a BSBA in accounting from Columbia. She is a full-time government and public safety reporter for Gannett.