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Firing attractive, ugly workers not illegal in California

As we have mentioned before on our Los Angeles / Long Beach employment law blog, employee contracts are generally considered to be at-will in California. This means employees can quit their jobs at any time they choose to do so. This also means that employers can fire employees with or without any reason as long as employers do not violate workplace laws that protect employees from retaliation or discrimination.

There are many situations in which an employee might not realize that he or she was fired illegally. For example, employees cannot be fired in Southern California for missing work because of jury duty, for complaining about dangerous workplace conditions, for refusing to take a polygraph test or for discussing salaries with co-workers. But can an employee be fired because of his or her looks?

In California, it is not illegal to fire someone because he or she is too attractive or not attractive enough. Unless an individual's age, gender, race, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, religion or pregnancy is a factor in an employer's decision to fire someone, it is not illegal to fire someone simply on the basis of one's physical looks.

Unfortunately, U.S. workers have been fired because of their looks and they have also discovered that there are no laws to protect them in these situations. One recent case involved a dental assistant who was fired by her employer because she was too attractive, which was apparently too distracting for her male superior. The woman filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against her employer, but the Iowa Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the woman's employer did not fire her on the basis of her gender. Instead, the woman's employer had fired her because of the "nature of her relationship" with her male superior.

Her male superior, a dentist, had claimed that working with the attractive woman had put his marriage on the rocks, even though the dentist and his assistant did not have a sexual relationship with each other. The woman was then fired because her looks had threatened the dentist's marriage. The court agreed that the reason for firing the dental assistant may not have been fair, but the reason for firing the woman was also not illegal. The Iowa Supreme Court's decision was unanimous and made by seven male justices.

Source: U-T San Diego, "Can you get fired for being too attractive?" Jonathan Horn, Dec. 31, 2012

  • Our Los Angeles / Long Beach employment law firm handles a wide variety of wrongful termination and workplace retaliation claims. To learn more about employee rights and our firm, please visit our Long Beach wrongful termination lawyers page.

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