The University of Chicago Undergraduate Law Review (UCULR) is a student-run publication dedicated to the discussion, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation of a variety of legal issues. It aims to provide a better understanding of the law in all of its ambiguities and contradictions in order to reveal how complex compilations of regulatory components can not only serve as reflections of social attitudes towards general ideas of order, agency, consent, power, and choice, but influence the most minute details of everyday life.
Appearance Discrimination, Title VII, and the BFOQ: A Cross-Circuit Analysis of Sexually Discriminatory Appearance Policies
Abstract: In order to determine Title VII’s capacity to fight appearance discrimination in the workplace, this study examines a cross-circuit split that highlights the present indeterminacy of modern sex discrimination law. In one case, a plaintiff alleging a claim of workplace gender discrimination prevailed on her claims—as a result of the Eighth Circuit's decision in Lewis v. Heartland Inns of America, 591 F. 3d 1033 (8th Cir. 2010). Yet, in a second case, a different circuit rejected the nearly identical claims of a similar plaintiff—see the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in Jespersen v. Harrah’s Operating Co., 444 F. 3d 1104 (9th Cir. 2006) (en banc).
Part I of this article establishes the background of both cases and the relevant precedents upon which they relied. In Part II, I outline the existing literature on appearance discrimination, Title VII, and an integral exception to Title VII: the bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). I then provide a brief description of my methodology in Part III, followed by a cross-circuit analysis of the Jesperson and Lewis opinions in Part IV. Finally, in Part V, I explore the implications of this study for appearance discrimination litigation, discuss the need for greater guidance from the Supreme Court and Congress, and suggest avenues for further research.
Author: Emily Vernon is a fourth-year at Northwestern University, majoring in American Studies and Legal Studies and minoring in Chinese.
FEATURED BLOG POST
Abstract: While recent Supreme Court decisions such as McCutcheon and Citizens United have ignited controversy over campaign finance procedures, the broader trend these decisions illuminate — that of extending constitutional protections to corporate entities — predates these decisions by centuries. When evaluated in the context of its history and origins, moreover, this trend (commonly called “corporate personhood”) seems to rest on largely tenuous foundations. As I hope to illustrate in this post, the dubious growth of such a judicial notion, as well as its continued resonance in modern court opinions, not only calls into question the legal underpinnings of these recent Supreme Court holdings, but also exposes the malleability of precedent and the chaotic nature of its growth.
Author: Peggy Xu is a second year in the college double majoring in Classical Studies and Law, Letters, and Society.