May 18, 2010

Ellen DeGeneres & Gender Stereotyping under Title VII

Posted in Discrimination, Stereotyping tagged , , , , , , at 9:45 am by Tom Jacobson

Ellen DeGeneres has been the face for many things, including CoverGirl.  So, it’s ironic that her appearance would be featured in a federal lawsuit brought by an Iowa woman who claimed she was fired for not being pretty enough and looking too much like Ellen.

According to a recent decision issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Brenna Lewis worked as  a night auditor and in other front desk roles for Heartland Inns of America.  Things went well for Ms. Lewis until a director of operations started characterizing her as having “an Ellen DeGeneres kind of look.”  She was also referred to as being “tomboyish,” and a manager said it was important for women at the front desk to be “pretty”  and that Ms. Lewis lacked the “Midwestern girl look.”

After Heartland fired Ms. Lewis, she sued, claiming that she was dismissed soley because of unlawful sex stereotyping.  Her case was initially dismissed by the trial court, but the appellate court reversed that decision after concluding that there was evidence suggesting that Heartland had improperly considered gender stereotypes when deciding to fire Ms. Lewis.

This is certainly not the first case where sexual stereotyping has been recognized as an unlawful basis for making decisions about an employee.  But, it is good reminder of the expansive scope of Title VII and of the importance of making decisions about employees based on performance and not pre-conceived gender stereotypes.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only.  They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship.  For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

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1 Comment »

  1. Craig Mische said,

    Amazing that a person that obtained the title of director of operations could be this big of a blockhead.


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