New Jersey Court Discusses Whether Discrimination Based on Appearance is Actionable

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While it is well known that state and federal law prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee due to the employee’s inclusion in certain protected classes, it is not always clear whether an employer’s inappropriate acts or standards violate the laws against discrimination. Additionally, as shown in a recent New Jersey discrimination case, the same standards and rules may be discriminatory as to some, but not all, of the employees that allege discrimination.  If you believe your employer is engaging in discriminatory practices, you should speak with a knowledgeable New Jersey employment discrimination attorney regarding your case and whether you may be able to recover compensation.

Factual Background

Allegedly, the plaintiffs and several other women were hired to work in the defendant casino as costumed beverage servers. The defendant adopted personal appearance standards to which the plaintiffs were required to adhere. The standards included the requirement that the plaintiffs maintain a certain weight. The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging that the standards violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and subjected them to gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, and disparate treatment, in part due to the requirement that the plaintiffs maintain a certain weight. The trial court dismissed the claims as to all but five of the plaintiffs. The defendant then filed a motion for summary judgment which the court granted. The plaintiffs subsequently appealed.

Discrimination Based on Weight

On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling. The court noted that while the Law Against Discrimination does not prohibit discrimination based on appearance, sex appeal, or weight, the plaintiffs set forth evidence that the defendant employer’s adverse employment actions due to the plaintiffs’ failure to comply with the personal appearance standards set forth a prima facie case of gender-based discrimination.

Specifically, the court noted that several of the plaintiffs described discriminatory interactions regarding the weight standard. In one example, a plaintiff was reportedly subjected to twice daily weigh-ins following a pregnancy, due to the disbelief that she was within the required weight range. In another, a plaintiff who had to take asthma medication which caused her to gain weight following a pregnancy was suspended for violating the weight standard.

Thus, the court noted that while the enforcement of the personal appearance standard alone may not violate the Law Against Discrimination, the conduct complained of reflected a pattern of discrimination towards pregnant women and women with medication conditions. The court found, therefore, the record was adequate to establish a dispute of material facts that the alleged harassment was gender-based. As such, the court found that the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims via summary judgment was not warranted.

Consult an Experienced New Jersey Employment Discrimination Attorney

If your employer has engaged in discriminatory practices resulting in adverse effects on your employment you should consult an experienced employment discrimination attorney to discuss whether you may be able to recover damages. At the Jaffe Glenn Law Group, our New Jersey employment discrimination attorneys will work diligently to help you seek the full amount of compensation you may be able to recover. You can contact us at 201-687-9977 or through our online form to schedule a confidential and free consultation.