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Spouse’s “Unjustified Jealousy” is Sufficient to Maintain Sex Discrimination Claim

Has your attorney ever told you justice is not swift? Well just ask Yogi Dilek Edwards, she would likely have some general thoughts on the speed of justice. Three and a half years ago we posted that a Manhattan yoga instructor had filed a claim of gender discrimination after she was fired from Wall Street Chiropractic and Wellness clinic for being "too cute." The Plaintiff's claim initially was dismissed by the trial court with a finding that a termination that is motivated by spousal jealousy does not constitute sex discrimination. Ms. Edwards appealed the decision to the Appellate Division and on Tuesday, the court found that terminations motivated by sexual attraction generally is prohibited and has remanded the case back to the trial court.

The decision (Edwards v. Nicolai, No. 4080 160830/13 (N.Y. App. Div. Aug. 22, 2017)), re-alleged the facts of the complaint—specifically that Edwards was employed as a yoga and massage therapist and Nicolai was the head chiropractor and her direct supervisor. Nicolai's wife, Stephanie Adams, was the Chief Operating Officer. Despite Edwards and Nicolai's relationship being "purely professional", Nicolai had stated that his "wife might become jealous of Plaintiff, because Plaintiff was too cute." Approximately four months into Edwards' employment she received a text message from Adams stating: "You are NOT welcome any longer 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." This was followed by a similarly threatening text from Mr. Nicolai.

Edwards brought a host of claims including defamation and gender discrimination against Nicolai and Adams individually. The trial court dismissed the gender discrimination claim and the Appellate Court reversed. Specifically, the court found, "[W]hile plaintiff does not allege that she was ever subjected to sexual harassment . . . she alleges facts from which it can be inferred that Nicolai was motivated to discharge her by his desire to appease his wife's unjustified jealousy, and that Adams was motivated to discharge plaintiff by that same jealousy. Thus, each defendant's motivation to terminate plaintiff's employment was sexual in nature."

We all know the effects of jealousy generally, but this love story has an interesting interplay with employment law and the legal landscape generally. Verrill Dana will continue to keep readers apprised as the matter progresses. In the meantime, should the envy and jealousy that sometimes accompanies romantic relationships rear their ugly heads in the workplace, make sure you contact a member of Verrill Dana's Labor and Employment Practice Group before taking adverse action.

Topics: Discrimination