Last week, a judge in New York threw out a claim by a female yoga instructor who claimed she was fired from a chiropractor clinic for being too attractive. Reports The New York Law Journal:
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.
Of course, attractive people are not a protected class. What do they need protection from? As any first-grader knows, those born cute or beautiful get all the breaks in life—more money, more attention and just a lot more love. So who cares if this pretty woman lost a job because her boss's wife and co-business partner (who's a former Playboy Playmate herself, by the way) is insanely jealous.
But then I read the ruling closer and I realized it has wider implications, particularly for women who work for married male bosses—which pretty much describes the situation for women in professions like law and finance.
"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," Maimon Kirschenbaum, the lawyer for the woman, tells NYLJ. "That’s his problem, not the woman’s."
Kirschenbaum is absolutely right. Why should a woman lose her job because her boss (or his wife) might find her too hot? (In her complaint, Edwards says she received favorable reviews about her work and describes her relationship with her boss as strictly professional.)
Though women now constitute about 50 percent of law students and new associates at many big firms, they still face a thousand and one subtle barriers. Some people—actually, make that men—still have hangups about working with women, particularly if they find the woman remotely alluring. For instance, economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett finds that 64 percent of senior men would not sponsor a woman because they fear that rumors of an inappropriate relationship will erupt.
So we are back to the theme of women as potential seducers of good, hardworking men. And the New York court is giving that archaic meme its blessings.
The issue, as I see it, is not whether attractive people need protection. Rather, the question is what to do with men who can't handle themselves in a professional manner in the presence of an attractive woman.
Let me make a suggestion: Grow up, boys.