Yogi Fired for Being ‘Too Cute’ Sees Sex Bias Claim Revived

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By Jon Steingart

The married owners of a chiropractic center must defend a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by a yoga and massage therapist who says she was fired because the wife became jealous of her relationship with the husband, a New York appeals court ruled ( Edwards v. Nicolai , 2017 BL 293534, N.Y. App. Div., No. 160830/13, 8/22/17 ).

Dilek Edwards said Charles Nicolai warned her after he hired her that his wife might become jealous because Edwards was “too cute.” Wife Stephanie Adams allegedly sent Edwards a series of text messages telling her she was fired and should stay away from the pair.

The ruling by the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, reverses a lower court decision that said a termination motivated by spousal jealousy doesn’t constitute sex discrimination under city and state laws. On the contrary, the appellate court said, it’s well-established that an adverse employment action motivated by sexual attraction is prohibited. Adams’ desire to fire Edwards out of unjustified jealousy and Nicolai’s desire to appease his wife, if proven, would constitute gender-motivated discrimination in violation of the law, it said.

“It makes clear that a decision that’s based on sexual attraction is gender discrimination,” Maimon Kirschenbaum, Edwards’ lawyer, told Bloomberg BNA about the court’s decision Aug. 23. It means there’s no need to analyze the sexual orientation or gender of an alleged perpetrator or victim in a gender discrimination claim, he said.

The couple’s lawyer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Aug. 23.

Justices David Friedman, Karla Moskowitz, Judith J. Gische, and Marcy L. Kahn joined the opinion.

Civil Rights Agency Sides With Yogi

In an amicus brief, the New York City Commission on Human Rights said the lower court erred by holding that Edwards couldn’t prove gender discrimination because she couldn’t show the couple would have fired a man who was too cute. The lower court reframed Edwards’ discriminatory firing as a personal conflict, the commission said. The commission enforces civil rights laws.

“The Commission has long championed the notion that gender-based discrimination takes many forms in the workplace,” press secretary Seth Hoy told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 23 email.

The case returns to the trial court, where Nicolai and Adams will have to file an answer and defend the lawsuit, Kirschenbaum said.

Kirschenbaum is with Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP in New York.

Martin Siegel with Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe LLP represented Nicolai and Adams.

Richard Dearing and Melanie West, attorneys with the city law department, represented the commission.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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