The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex or gender. Despite the “liberal construction” applied to the interpretation of sex discrimination under the NYSHRL and NYCHRL, a Manhattan Supreme Court held on May 11, 2016, that it does not include terminating an employee because of concerns that the employee is “too cute.”
In Edwards v. Nicolai, 160830/2013, NYLJ 1202758050107, at *1 (Sup., NY, Decided May 11, 2016), Edwards was employed as a yoga and massage therapist by Wall Street Chiropractic and Wellness (“WSCW”) for approximately a year and a half. WSCW was co-owned by Nicolai and his spouse, Adams. According to the complaint, Edwards maintained a strictly professional relationship with Nicolai and had only met Adams once, at a cordial meeting. Approximately two months into Edwards’ employment, Nicolai told her that is wife might become jealous of her because she was “too cute.”
A year and a half after she was hired she received a text message from Adams “out of the blue,” which stated “[y]ou are NOT welcome any longer at Wall Street Chiropractic. DO NOT ever step foot in there again, and stay the [F….] away from my husband and family!!!!!!! And remember I warned you.” The next day Nicolai emailed Edwards, “You are fired and no longer welcome in our office. If you call or try to come back, we will call the police.”
The court dismissed the sex discrimination claims under both the NYSHRL and NYCHRL. Although sex or gender discrimination under the NYCHRL also includes discrimination on the basis of “appearance,” the court held that “appearance” discrimination has been applied only in instances involving transgender or gender identity issues, and not in matters such as this one. The court did uphold a claim of defamation against Adams, based upon allegedly false statements Adams made to the police about Edwards.
This is not the first case to assert this type of claim. The dismissal of the gender discrimination claims is not surprising, given that the courts have always been reluctant to characterize as discrimination a termination that was prompted by spousal jealousy, whether warranted or not. Discrimination based upon jealousy is not gender discrimination, particularly where, as here, the termination was prompted by the co-owner spouse.