Physically attractive people reap many benefits. Research has shown that people view attractive individuals to be smarter and more confident than others, and good looking people tend to be hired faster and promoted more often in the workplace.
While attractiveness has its benefits, it also has its downsides. Multiple people around the country have alleged that they were fired for simply being too good looking.
But do these individuals have any recourse? If you are fired or discriminated against at work because of your level of attractiveness, do you have the right to sue?
In general, the answer is no. There have been multiple lawsuits around the country filed by women who allege that they were fired based on their looks, though few have been successful. For example, a woman in Iowa was fired after ten years because her boss thought her looks made her a threat to his marriage. In that case, the Iowa Supreme Court held that the woman had not made a case for gender or sex discrimination, and that an at-will employee “may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.
In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, citizenship, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical and mental disability, age, religion, and pregnancy. It does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of physical appearance. Additionally, the California Supreme Court has previously held that without absence of discrimination based on a protected characteristic like a disability, employment actions based on physical appearance are not illegal.
However, this is not the case in every city. Cities like Santa Cruz and San Francisco have passed local laws which outlaw employment discrimination based on a person’s physical appearance or weight. These laws might provide a cause of action for employees who are discriminated against based on their appearance.
Additionally, people who are discriminated against on the basis of looks may have traditional sex or gender discrimination claims. While it would be perfectly legal for a business to choose to hire an attractive receptionist versus an unattractive receptionist, it would not be legal for that business to restrict the receptionist position to only women. Also, attractive people may be more susceptible to sexual harassment in the workplace.
Until a person’s physical appearance becomes an established protected characteristic, it will not be possible for employees to file a discrimination lawsuit on that basis alone. However, as the country continues to add protections for employees in the workplace, discrimination based on a person’s looks may soon be covered by state or federal law.
Sacramento, CA 95821