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Yoga instructor’s ‘too cute’ gender bias suit reinstated on appeal

Posted On: Aug. 28, 2017 11:30 AM CST

A New York state appeals court has reinstated the gender discrimination case of a yoga instructor who was allegedly fired from her job for being “too cute.”

Dilek Edwards had been hired as a yoga and message therapist by Charles B. Nicolai, co-owner of Wall Street Chiropractic and Wellness in New York in April 2012, according to court papers in Dilek Edwards v. Charles V. Nicolai and Stephanie Adams.

Mr. Nicolai warned Ms. Edwards that his wife — who is a former Playboy Playmate, according to news reports — might become jealous because she was “too cute,” although Ms. Edwards contended she and Mr. Nicolai had a “strictly professional relationship,” according to court papers.

On Oct. 29, 2013, Ms. Edwards received a text from Mr. Nicolai's wife, whom she had only met once, warning her to stay away from her husband and family. Mr. Nicolai fired her the next day.

Ms. Edwards filed suit charging gender discrimination in violation of the New York State Human Rights law and defamation in violation of the New York City Human Rights Laws. The court upheld the defamation charge, but dismissed the gender discrimination charge

“Even were this court to consider plaintiff's new theory of ‘appearance-based discrimination,’ this Court is constrained under the law to make a determination that defendants’ behavior, no matter how abhorrent, fails to constitute gender discrimination,” said the New York Supreme Court ruling.

On appeal, the New York State Supreme Court’s appellate division in New York reinstated the gender discrimination charge in its 4-0 ruling on Aug. 22.

The lower court erred in its ruling, said the appellate division. “It is well established that adverse employment actions motivated by sexual attraction are gender-based and, therefore, constitute unlawful gender discrimination,” it said.

“Here, while plaintiff does not allege that she was ever subjected to sexual harassment” at the firm, “she alleges facts from which it can be inferred that Nicolai was motivated to discharge her by his desire to appease his wife’s unjustified jealousy, and that Adams was motivated to discharge plaintiff by that same jealousy, thus each defendant’s motivation to terminate plaintiff’s employment was sexual in nature,” said the ruling, which also affirmed the lower court’s defamation ruling.

Eric B. Meyer, a partner with Dilworth Paxson L.L.P. in Philadelphia, noted the case’s facts are comparable to a 2013 ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court, albeit with a different outcome.

The Iowa case involved a dentist, James H. Knight, who terminated his long-time dental assistant, Melissa Nelson, at his wife’s insistence because she was concerned about the nature of their relationship, according to the decision in Melissa Nelson v. James H. Knight D.D.S. P.C. and James Knight.

In affirming a lower court ruling dismissing the case, the court said: “The civil rights laws seek to insure that employees are treated the same regardless of their sex or other protected status. Yet even taking Nelson’s view of the facts, Dr. Knight’s unfair decision to terminate Nelson (while paying her a rather ungenerous one month’s severance) does not jeopardize that goal.”