Can You Fire an Employee for Their Appearance?

As Houston recruiters, we saw in the news recently that a woman filed a lawsuit claiming age discrimination against her former Houston employer stating she was let go because she refused to dye her gray hair. In the suit, the woman said that her manager told her to amp up her image and dye her gray hair because the firm was moving to new headquarters and wanted to present a more upscale image. When she refused, she was fired and a younger woman was hired.

The employer, however, is calling her lawsuit baseless and said she was fired because a customer no longer wanted to do business with her. In addition, they stated they have three current employees who are older than the woman filing the suit.

Whatever the case may be, the question remains: Can you legally fire an employee for their appearance?

If the employee in question is violating the company’s stated dress codes, and those dress codes aren’t discriminatory, then yes, you may be able to.

For instance, according to a 2006 ruling, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the termination of a casino bartender who refused to wear makeup. According to the casino’s dress policy, female bartenders are required to wear makeup, while men are required to keep their hair and fingernails trimmed.

In fact, as Houston recruiters, we know that under the employment-at-will doctrine, an employer can generally fire a non-union employee for almost any reason or no reason at all. (For union employees, “just cause” is required.) However, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, some of the reasons an employer cannot terminate an employee are on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act also prohibits termination on the basis of age.

So in the Houston case, if it can be proven the woman was fired because she didn’t look sufficiently youthful, then she may have a valid claim. If not, then the suit could be dismissed. Only time will tell.

What about you? Do you regulate your employees’ appearance in any way?