Mirror, mirror: can discrimination be based on my appearance?

Since laws forbidding employment discrimination were passed, they have been expanded to include other forms of discrimination as society has progressed socially. Obesity and sexual orientation can now be recognized as forms of discrimination. Obesity discrimination is closely related to another form that seems to be increasingly recognized by the courts: lookism.

Lookism, also referred to as body fascism, is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as having a standard for beauty and attractiveness and making judgments about people based on that standard. When discrimination laws were first introduced in the 1960s and 1970s, lookism was considered to be part of a form of discrimination called “ugly laws” which discriminated against people who were disfigured from injuries or illnesses. Now those issues would likely be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act as a physical disability.

One example of lookism discrimination includes a woman who was a front desk clerk at a hotel in the Midwest. The company’s director of operations commented that the woman had more of “an Ellen DeGeneres kind of look” than the pretty “Midwestern girl look” they preferred. While the clerk had received positive reviews from hotel guests and her manager, she was returned to an overnight shift. When questioned the move, she was fired.

Employment law experts note that proving lookism discrimination may be more difficult to prove than other types because it is almost solely subjective. While age and gender and even disabilities are “objectively verifiable,” beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. How far can that discrimination go? If one employer prefers brunettes over blondes, would that be sufficient? And one would guess that lookism would also apply to males.

Interest8ingly, some recent cases have been argued on opposite grounds, but which could also be categorized under lookism.  One woman was fired from her job at Citibank for being “too hot”. In a highly publicized case, a woman who had worked as a dental assistant for the same dentist for 10 years was fired because her employer found her “irresistibly attractive—and a threat to his marriage”.

So apparently if you look like Sophia Vergara or the Wicked Witch of the West, you may face discrimination. Whether it can be proven on those grounds, however, may require objective evidence on a subjective decision. If you believe that you have been the victim of lookism, a Wisconsin attorney with experience in employment discrimination can help you determine whether your circumstances rise to the level of filing a lawsuit.

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