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New York City Discrimination Attorneys: Are Female Dress Codes Legal?

New York City discrimination attorneys have been watching the case involving a New Jersey woman who claims religious and sex discrimination with regard to her employer’s dress code.New York City discrimination lawyers understand that while many employee dress codes are totally legal, there is a fine line between enforcing somewhat Draconian dress codes and employment discrimination.

Before we explain more fully, here’s what we know of this case, according to Good Morning America:

A woman from New Jersey was hired to work as a data entry clerk at a lingerie wholesale company, headquartered in Manhattan.

She had worked there only two days, she said, when she was first counseled by her superior. Her supervisor had informed her that the store owners, who are reportedly Orthodox Jews, were unhappy with the woman’s outfit, deeming it, “distracting.”

When she asked what the dress code was, she was told to look around and take stock of what the other female employees were wearing. She said she observed that attire to be basically a range from “very” casual athletic wear to formal business attire.

The woman says she came to work the next day fully covered in a gray t-shirt, black jean leggings and boots. Her employers, however, found this unsatisfactory. At that point, she alleges she was instructed to tape down her breasts. When she asked if the supervisor was kidding, he responded that she was simply to cover up more.

The supervisor then reportedly gave her a hideous bath robe and instructed her to wear it. The worker said she was humiliated, and was taunted by co-workers. She was eventually given the option to go purchase a sweater, which she then left to do. However, while shopping for a sweater, she received a call telling her not to return.

Now, here’s the thing: Existing law regarding sex discrimination prohibits policies that impose discriminatory burdens or that are sexually demeaning. However, dress codes in and of themselves aren’t illegal.

So even if a company wants to demand that female workers wear skirts and make-up, it’s not considered discriminatory, unless maybe the male employees in the same position are allowed to walk around in jeans and t-shirts.

A lot of companies have dress codes, particularly for people who work with the public.

What this woman may have going for her in this case is that it does not appear that dress code was ever properly and clearly communicated to her.

This is not the first local case in which a woman has sued her former employer, claiming dress code discrimination. A woman in Queens sued Citibank two years ago after her bosses there reportedly banned her from wearing “heels and sexy outfits.” Other female employees, she noted, were wearing the same attire as her and were not penalized. She, on the other hand, was fired. She claims it was because her bosses felt she was “too hot.”

It is not so much the banning of certain clothing, but the disparity between this employee and others that determines whether this individual’s case may be solid.

In the case of Citibank, the bank ended up settling with her for an undisclosed amount.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment discrimination representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or contact us through the website.

Additional Resources:
New Jersey Woman Says She Was Fired For Being Too Busty, By Ashley Jennings, Good Morning America

More Blog Entries:
New York Gender Discrimination Happens to Men Too, March 20, 2012, New York City Employment Discrimination Attorney Blog