November 18, 2010

“Tomboy” firing costs company $50K+

Posted in Discrimination, Gender / Sex, Stereotyping tagged , , , at 2:20 pm by Tom Jacobson

The verdict is now in, and Heartland Inns will have to pay.

In the inaugural post on my Human Resource Legal Resource blog, Ellen DeGeneres & Gender Stereotyping under Title VII (http://bit.ly/cawVSt), I commented on the case of Lewis v. Heartland Inns of America. In that case an Iowa hotel fired a female employee because she had an “Ellen DeGeneres kind of look.”  She was also described as “tomboyish,” while a manager said it was important for women at the hotel’s front desk to be ”pretty” and that Ms. Lewis lacked the “Midwestern girl look.” 

Ms. Lewis sued the hotel under the theory that the hotel’s decision was unlawful gender stereotyping prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The trial court initially dismissed her case, but the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals’ disagreed and sent the case back for a trial.

The case has now been tried, and the verdict is in.  On November 12, 2010 the jury sided in favor of Ms. Lewis and awarded her $30,000.00 in punitive damages, $19,000.00 for emotional distress, and $1,800.00 for lost wages. 

As noted in in my initial post, the case 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 jury’s verdict, which does not take into account the significant legal fees that the hotel undoubtedly incurred in defending the lawsuit or Ms. Lewis’s attorneys’ fees and court costs which Heartland Inns will likely be ordered to pay,  now stands as a reminder of just how costly Title VII violations can be.

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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