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Makeup, Hair, Clothing and Illegal Sex Illegal Discrimination in New Jersey

Women face many challenges in the workplace. Studies show that people will attribute greater confidence, competence, reliability, and personability to women who wear makeup and subscribe to certain other “feminine” beauty standards. While the law cannot control what a person on the street thinks, it can control how your employer behaves and, if you have been punished at work (whether explicitly or implicitly) because of the appearance choices you made, your employer may have engaged in impermissible discrimination. Get in touch with an experienced New Jersey sex discrimination to talk about the legal options you may have.

The evidence you need in a case like this need not be explicit; even just indirect proof can potentially allow you to present your case to a jury. For example, there’s V.E., the plaintiff in a recent Title VII sex discrimination lawsuit. J.H., a manager in the woman’s office, allegedly engaged in various inappropriate behaviors. According to V.E., the manager included “very ’racey videos’ at the end of team meetings.” The woman also gave the court text message exchanges with a co-worker where that co-worker stated that the manager “seems to be ok w/ the blondes,” V.E., who was a Latina in her mid-40s, also provided testimony that the manager hired women “with a particular appearance.”

This was enough proof to defeat the employer’s motion for a summary judgment. One of the employer’s key arguments was that the employment action about which V.E. complained was actually gender-neutral. The court, however, ruled that the evidence V.E. had provided could “support the inference that [the manager’s] ostensibly gender-neutral conduct was” really based on sex.

V.E.’s case took place across the river in New York City. It is, however, still significant for victims of sex discrimination here in New Jersey, especially if you’re proceeding under a claim of a Title VII violation. Title VII is, of course, a federal law, and the things you’ll need to succeed in a Title VII sex discrimination case in New Jersey are largely similar to those needed in New York.

Indeed, within its ruling in favor of V.E., the Southern District of New York court expressly cited to a sex discrimination case from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, whose rulings directly control federal cases here in New Jersey (as well as Delaware and Pennsylvania.)

In that case, the plaintiff’s manager was a man who hired a woman allegedly because “nice-looking women have a tough time making it in business.” Later, during a staff meeting, the manager allegedly criticized the plaintiff and praised the other woman,  negatively referencing the plaintiff’s “makeup, eyeshadow, and clothing” in the process.

Scrutiny of Women’s Appearance Could Be a Form of Discrimination 

That, according to the Third Circuit, could constitute sex discrimination. “Undue preoccupation with what female employees look like is not permissible under anti-discrimination laws if the same kind of attention is not paid to male employees. Traditional ideas about what a woman should look like are not legitimate criteria for evaluating women in the workplace,” the ruling said.

State law in New Jersey has long protected workers from discrimination based upon their appearance. In 2007, the state added “gender identity and expression” as potential bases for actionable discrimination claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). This change in the law provided valuable aid to workers who were members of the LGBTQ+ community, but it actually offers more protection than just that.

In the Third Circuit ruling mentioned above, the court decided that “preoccupation” with female workers’ appearance could be actionable discrimination under Title VII if male workers did not face similar scrutiny. You might have a viable claim under Title VII, the LAD, or both, if you, as a woman, have suffered at work due to your employer’s undue focus on things like your makeup (or lack thereof,) hairstyle, and/or clothing choices, especially if the employer does not similarly police male workers’ clothing and appearance. That’s true whether you’re cisgender or a non-binary person.

Whoever you are, chances are that you want to be judged on your performance and the product of your efforts, not on your appearance. If you have been punished at work because you did not conform to someone else’s idea of how someone like you “should look,” then you may have been victimized by impermissible sex discrimination. If that sounds like you, get in touch with the skilled New Jersey sex discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates. We’re here to answer all the questions you have, to give you the advice you need, and to be the powerful advocate you deserve. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today and set up a free and confidential consultation to find out how we can help you.

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