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Employ Respons Rights J (2007) 19:95–111 DOI 10.1007/s10672-007-9037-z

Appearance-based Sex Discrimination and Stereotyping in the Workplace: Whose Conduct Should We Regulate?
Stan Malos

Published online: 12 April 2007 # Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2007

Abstract Court treatment of sex discrimination and harassment claims based on appearance and gender stereotyping has been inconsistent, particularly where the facts involve reference to sexual orientation. Ironically, court willingness to allow such claims may turn on the choice of verbal or physical conduct by, or the sex or sexual orientation of, the alleged offenders. Because plaintiffs in such situations may assert retaliation claims to increase their chances of prevailing, employers should focus less on regulating aspects of personal appearance unrelated to job performance and more on problematic reactions by coworkers. Workplace civility policies may hold promise for limiting both legal liability and practical consequences in the absence of a legislative response. Key words workplace appearance . sex discrimination . gender stereotyping . sexual orientation . retaliation . workplace civility As the number of employment-related discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims based on employee appearance has continued to increase, so has the variety of fact patterns that underlie such claims. For example, in Yanowitz v. L’Oreal (2005), the California Supreme Court upheld plaintiff’s right to bring a retaliation claim based on her apparent targeting for disciplinary and other adverse action after she refused to follow a superior’s order to fire a dark-skinned female salesperson and “get me somebody hot” (referring to a light-skinned blond). The majority of appearance-based discrimination claims, however, still represent two types: those based on the effects of employer dress codes, grooming standards, or other appearance-based requirements, and those based on the effects of coworker



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