In Edwards v. Nicolai, 153 A.D.3d 440, 60 N.Y.S.3d 40 (1st Dept, Aug. 22, 2017), the New York Appellate Division, First Department, found that a female employee adequately stated a claim for gender discrimination when she alleged that she was fired because her employer’s wife thought she was too “cute” and a threat to her marriage.
By way of background, in April 2012, Plaintiff began working as a yoga instructor and massage therapist for a chiropractor and wellness center owned and operated by a married couple. Despite Plaintiff’s and husband-owner’s relationship being “purely professional” and the husband-owner “regularly prais[ing] Plaintiff’s work performance,” in June 2013, the husband-owner told Plaintiff that his “wife might become jealous of Plaintiff, because Plaintiff was too cute.” Approximately four (4) months later, the wife-owner sent a text message to Plaintiff stating, “You are NOT welcome at Wall Street Chiropractic, DO NOT ever step foot in there again, and stay the [expletive] away from my husband and family!!!!!!! And remember I warned you.” A few hours later, the husband-owner sent Plaintiff an email stating, “You are fired and no longer welcome in our office. If you call or try to come back, we will call the police.”
Plaintiff thereafter sued both the husband and wife for gender discrimination under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws. The trial court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims on the ground that “spousal jealousy alone” does not constitute gender discrimination.
On appeal, the New York Appellate Division, First Department, reversed Plaintiff’s gender discrimination claim stating, “While plaintiff does not allege that she was ever subjected to sexual harassment … she alleges facts from which it can be inferred that [the husband-owner] was motivated to discharge her by his desire to appease his wife’s unjustified jealousy, and that [the wife-owner] was motivated to discharge plaintiff by that same jealousy. Thus, each defendant’s motivation to terminate plaintiff’s employment was sexual in nature.” According to the court, under both the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law, “adverse employment actions motivated by sexual attraction are gender-based and, therefore, constitute unlawful gender discrimination.”
The First Department further noted that other ‘spousal jealousy’ cases involving consensual affairs were distinguishable because “[i]n such cases, it was the employee’s behavior — not merely the employer’s attraction to the employee or the perception of such an attraction by the employer’s spouse — that prompted the termination.” However, here, because there was no allegation that Plaintiff had ever behaved inappropriately or that she had any affair with the husband-owner, it was only her gender that was the basis for the termination.
If you believe that your employer terminated your employment due to a discriminatory reason, we recommend contacting a New York employment discrimination attorney as soon as possible to assess all your legal options.