Constitutional Law Employment Law Litigation

NY Judge Okays Firing Yoga Teacher For Being “Too Cute”

Dilek Edwards was a yoga instructor and massage therapist working for chiropractor Charles Nicolai’s Wall Street Chiropractic & Wellness Center. More than a year after Edwards started the job, Nicolai told Edwards his wife might be jealous because Edwards was “too cute.” Edwards’ wife, Stephanie Adams, is a co-owner of the practice and was therefore also Edwards’ boss.

Edwards claims that after she started giving Dr Nicolai yoga lessons, Adams texted her in October 2013 warning her “You are NOT welcome any longer at Wall Street Chiropractic, DO NOT ever step foot in there again, and stay the F–K away from my husband and family!!!!!!” shortly after her boss admitted that his wife “might become jealous” due to Edwards’ yoga lessons. The following day Edward received an email from Nicolai, which stated: “You are fired and no longer welcome in our office. If you call or try to come back, we will call the police”

She was fired shortly thereafter and filed a discrimination lawsuit against her employers. Her lawyers argued that Section 8-102(23) of the New York City’s Human Rights Law defines “gender” to include “a person’s gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression.” But Judge Shlomo Hagler of NY County Supreme Court disagreed saying that those terms were all meant to cover discrimination based on sexual identity to protect transgender employees. The court stated:

[T]his Court is constrained under the law to make a determination that defendants’ behavior, no matter how abhorrent, fails to constitute gender discrimination. Plaintiff has failed to plead in the Amended Complaint in sufficient detail what the term “too cute” is alleged to mean. The reference to the term “too cute” may not be a remark about physical appearance in the first place. In any event, plaintiff has also failed to allege that a reference to “too cute” is gender related, namely that the term was applied by plaintiff herein to men and women differently. . . . Here, the only allegation in the Amended Complaint is that plaintiff was terminated by Nicolai because of the jealousy of Adams, namely that she thought plaintiff was “too cute.” . . . The court is unable to find a case interpreting either the NY State Human Rights Law or the NY City Human Rights Law which holds that a termination motivated by spousal jealousy alone, constitutes gender or sex based discrimination

The City’s Human Rights Law is one of the most liberal and expansive statutes of its kind in the country. It specifically states in the statute’s language that the law is meant to provide broader protection than Federal or State laws. But to have allowed this claim to go forward would have changed the law’s purpose – it was clearly intended to protect folks from being discriminated against based on their gender identity and gender appearance. To say you can’t be fired because your boss’ wife or your boss is jealous of you and worried you might steal their spouse would have been to broad an expansion of the law’s protection.

The Judge did allow to go forward Edwards’ claim that she was defamed when Adams called police and falsely told them that she received threatening phone calls from Edwards and that Edwards ‘stated’ ‘I am going to come to the office’ in a threatening manner” also telling police that she had to change the locks at her home and office. So these three will be in court together for a little while longer.

Dilek Edwards (From FB)
Dilek Edwards (From FB)
Charles Nicolai (From his office's website)
Charles Nicolai (From his office’s website)

Stephanie Adams (From her Twitter page)
Stephanie Adams (From her Twitter page)
All of this happened as result of the defendants filing a motion to dismiss the case before they even answered, so the case still has to drag through the discovery process. That means, depositions, examination of texts; phone messages; and possibly social media posts, all of which will make the case go on for another few years. Which could make for some very dicey litigation as Ms. Adams has some interesting history and has done very well in life, business and the courtroom. Some salient facts: (1)She was a Playboy centerfold in November 1992. (2)At that time she was identified as the first openly lesbian centerfold. She obviously has since expanded her horizons. (3)She was injured in a scuffle with police in 2006 after an argument with a cabbie outside her apartment, according to the New York Daily News.The taxi-driver called the police claiming that she ‘flashed her vampire teeth’ and threatened to shoot him following an argument after he refused to carry her clothes up to her apartment. She claimed she was pushed to the ground when police officers arrived, an injury which left her with permanent neck and back injuries. Officers initially claimed that they performed a ‘controlled drop’ because they didn’t know if she was concealing a firearm. But they later admitted that her clothes were so tight-fitting that there would have been nowhere to conceal it. Adams was awarded $1.2 million – $385,000 more than her lawyers asked for; (4) In 2015, when the NYPD denied her a gun permit, she took them to court and won; (5) The permit denial was allegedly based on a number of domestic disputes with her husband and roommate some of which she was listed as the victim and others where she was listed as the perpetrator (6) She currently has more than a million Twitter followers and says she is now teaching yoga.

Edwards is likely to appeal so we’ll have to see how the appellate courts treat the case.

Follow me on Twitter @oscarmichelen

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