If you fire someone because the way she dresses causes drama in the workplace, you may face a sex discrimination and harassment claim. It’s always best to stick to simple, verifiable facts that focus on performance when discharging a worker and leave rumors and emotion out of it.
Recent case: Rochelly worked as a regional manager for a fashion company and was responsible for 15 stores on the East Coast. She regularly went to work without wearing a bra. During a meeting with the company CEO, Rochelly wore a blouse so revealing that her uncovered breasts showed.
What followed were rumors about that meeting and Rochelly’s appearance. The tales spread throughout the company, mostly because of comments made by other women.
Rochelly complained that the rumors that she essentially exposed her breasts to the CEO were inappropriate.
Shortly after she complained, she was called into a meeting and informed she was being terminated from her job.
Rochelly sensed that something was afoot at the meeting and used her cell phone to record the conversation. The recording showed that three reasons for her discharge were discussed: That she allegedly mishandled supervising an employee at one store, had problems with the opening of another store and was associated with “too much drama.”
Rochelly sued, alleging retaliation for complaining about what she perceived as sex harassment concerning her style of dress.
The court said her case could go forward. A jury will decide whether “too much drama” was code for firing her because of the way she dressed and the reaction to that style. (Baez v. Anne Fontaine USA, No. 14-CV-6621, SD NY, 2017)
Final note: The court wasn’t swayed by the employer’s argument that only women were apparently spreading the rumors that created the drama.
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