Monday, April 14, 2003
L’Oreal to Ask S.C. to Review Ruling on Firing of Unattractive Worker
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A lawyer for a major company in the international cosmetics market said Friday the company will ask the California Supreme Court to review a ruling that cleared the way for a discrimination lawsuit by a sales manager who claims she lost her job for refusing to fire a perfume saleswoman her boss considered unattractive.
“We believe the court will rule in our favor,” William J. Carroll, who represents L’Oreal U.S.A. said. He would not elaborate.
A L’Oreal executive’s order that Elysa Yanowitz “get rid of” the Macy’s saleswoman because she was “not good looking enough” allows Yanowitz to file a claim under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the First District Court of Appeal said March 7 in Yanowitz v. L’Oreal USA, Inc., 106 Cal.App.4th 1036.
“A male executive’s order to fire a female employee because she fails to meet the executive’s standards for sexual attractiveness is an act of sex discrimination when no similar standards are applied to men,” Justice Linda Gemello wrote for Div. Five. “A lower-level manager’s refusal to carry out that order is protected activity, and an employer may not retaliate against her for that refusal. “
The justice agreed with L’Oreal that it could not be held liable for discrimination based on physical appearance, which is not a protected category under FEHA. But “the unwritten establishment of two sets of rules for success: for men, based on performance, and for women, based on appearance” is one of “the many guises” of sex discrimination in the workplace, Gemello wrote.
Yanowitz, who oversaw designer perfume sales in several states as a regional sales manager for L’Oreal, claims she was first given the firing instructions in late 1997 while she and company executive John Wiswall were touring a Macy’s department store in San Jose.
After passing the Ralph Lauren counter, Wiswall allegedly told Yanowitz she needed to replace the clerk who was selling men’s cologne, a dark-skinned woman of Middle Eastern descent. “Get me somebody hot,” is what Wiswall said, Yanowitz claims.
Yanowitz says she refused and said Wiswall launched a campaign to fire her as well. She went on leave for stress in 1998 and was eventually replaced.
Yanowitz’s attorney, her husband Herbert Yanowitz, said the California appeals court broke new ground by finding that plaintiffs can invoke the sex discrimination argument on behalf of other people when challenging job actions that apply to themselves.
“The idea that you can’t have different standards for women and men is fairly well established,” he said. “But those previous cases, I don’t believe, related to retaliation for refusing to fire somebody.”
Yanowitz rose through the ranks of the company, formerly known as Cosmair, Inc. She started as a sales representative in 1981, was named regional sales manager in 1986, and was given additional responsibilities after the company was restructured in 1997.
In addition to the gender-bias claim, Yanowitz accused the company of discriminating against her because she is Jewish and because of her age, 53, when she left in 1998, but did not appeal the dismissal of those claims.
Among other things, she claimed that Wiswall, after having perhaps too much to drink, once told another Jewish employee that as a youth he hated Jews because they got extra time off from school for Jewish holidays.
Herbert Yanowitz told the MetNews that while he remains convinced that anti-Semitism was involved, it would be difficult to prove without endangering the standing of current employees.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company