FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-03-16
When it comes to employment, we all want to be judged on our merits and not by our appearance. Federal, state and local discrimination laws help maintain merit-based workplaces, but despite such protections different forms of discrimination can still seep into the workplace. Sometimes illegal discrimination in the workplace may be masked as legal discretion by employers.
Unfair decisions are commonly made in the workplace, but there is a difference between a biased choice and an illegal, discriminatory job-related act. Certain federal and state laws prohibit employers from making discriminatory job-related decisions based on specific protected categories or characteristics like race, color, national origin, age and sex, among others. Recently, appearance-based discrimination has been a hot topic.
It has long been viewed that attractive people receive better evaluations, salaries and even legal judgments than their peers. But, according to a recent study workplace discrimination based on attractiveness does not break even between sexes. It seems attractive men have a greater advantage than attractive women. Being an attractive man was an advantage in all job positions, whereas being an attractive woman was a disadvantage in roles traditionally filled by men like director of finance, mechanical engineer, construction supervisor and manager of research and development. For women, attractiveness was only beneficial in roles like secretary and receptionist.
Is Discrimination Based on Attractiveness Legal?
While discrimination based on physical conditions caused by obesity are prohibited under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, many other discriminatory job-related decisions based on physical appearance are not specifically forbidden by federal or state law. Only a handful of cities prohibit such discrimination.
Since many jurisdictions do not prohibit appearance-based discrimination, physical appearance discrimination may be shoehorned into protected categories if it occurs. For example, a job-related discriminatory act based on appearance may be a proxy for discrimination against African Americans, Latinos, Asians or women.
Employees should be aware of whether their employer has established and enforces clear guidelines that apply equally to all employees. Workplace decisions should be based on performance — not inaccurate stereotypes.
If you have suffered a discriminatory job-related act by your employer, contact an experienced New Jersey labor law attorney to review your rights.