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Worker Said to Lack 'Prettiness' for the Job

March 4, 2010
Related Topics: Staffing and the Law, Harassment, Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, Featured Article

Brenna Lewis worked as a part-time front desk clerk, and later as a full-time night auditor for Heartland Inns of America in Ankeny, Iowa. In December 2006, Lori Stifel, the hotel manager, received telephone approval from Heartland operations director Barbara Cullinan to promote Lewis to a full-time day-shift job on the front desk. After Cullinan met Lewis for the first time, Cullinan told Stifel that Lewis lacked the “Midwestern girl look” and the “prettiness” she wanted for a front desk job.

As a result, Heartland adopted a policy requiring that front desk job candidates undergo a second interview, and it also purchased video equipment so that executives could see job applicants before they were hired. When Lewis questioned the need for a second interview to retain her front desk job, she was terminated. Lewis then sued Heartland under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment dismissing the lawsuit, holding that Lewis established a case of sex bias based on “gender stereotyping.”

The court held that a plaintiff does not need to show comparative evidence to the effect that men were treated the same or differently in order to raise a reasonable inference of discrimination. Rather, evidence that gender stereotyping influenced the adverse employment action is, alone, sufficient to establish a discrimination claim. Lewis produced evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that her termination was because of sex. Lewis v. Heartland Inns of Am. LLC d/b/a Heartland Inn Ankeny, 8th Cir., No. 08-3860 (1/21/10).

Impact: Employers are advised that stereotypes as to how men or women should look or act create a basis for challenging adverse employment decisions. It is recommended that employers include in routine harassment and other training for managers the issue of potential liability and the increase of litigation over this issue.

Workforce Management, March 10, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

Recent Articles by James E. Hall, Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis

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