Suppose you apply for a job. The job has certain dress code requirements for all employees. You, however, think the mandatory clothing will look unflattering on your over-40-year-old body. Do you…
- Look for a different job?
- Apply anyway and deal with the requirements?
- Sue for age discrimination?
If you’re most people, you choose either of the first two options. If you’re attorney Roy Lester, however, you opt for number three.
When the New York Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation refused to hire 58-year-old Lester as a lifeguard, he sued, claiming age discrimination. The lawyer-by-day claims that the job requirement that he wear certain swimwear discriminates against him because of his age. From CNN.com:
The rule, still in operation, requires that to be re-hired as a lifeguard, participants must wear either “boxers, briefs or board shorts” when completing a qualifying swim test…. Lester who believes that “as you age you should show less skin” prefers jammers; tight lycra shorts that end a couple of inches above the knee. The bankruptcy attorney claims “Speedos are not appropriate for a 61-year-old” and refused to wear loose-fitting shorts because they would slow him down.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog, “Peter Brancato, spokesman for New York state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, [said] that there never was a policy specifically requiring lifeguards to wear Speedos. For the annual swim test, lifeguards are required to wear regular work gear, which for men could be a Speedo, a boxer-type swimsuit or a board suit.”
In other words, the employer subjected Lester to the same dress code as every other employee and applicant. Guess what? That’s not age discrimination, even according to the EEOC: “In general, an employer may establish a dress code which applies to all employees or employees within certain job categories.” Exceptions include dress codes that conflict with an employee’s religious practice or disability. The law makes no such exception, however, for an employee’s age.
(An appellate court just reinstated Lester’s claim, following a dismissal by the trial court. That fact does not make me think his claim is any less ridiculous).