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We all want equality in the workplace. We want to know our value is based on our ability to perform our job duties well and not so much on how pretty we are or how we look after our workout at the gym each day. Fortunately, there are laws that agree and lawyers who stand ready to defend us when our looks or other unfair standards keep us from promoting within the company. Most recently, a case in Iowa reiterated how damaging it can be when we’re told the promotion did not come through and we suspect it’s due to our appearance or because we lack a certain look. “It’s not about taking pride in our appearance and ensuring we’re presentable for the workday”, says A. Harrison Barnes, lawyer and founder of, “it is, however, about not receiving a promotion because someone’s not “pretty” enough”.

One hotel chain is learning that lesson the hard way. An operations director who was responsible for several Heartland Inns of America chains promoted a woman to a full time day shift position on one of the hotel’s front desks. After having met Brenna Lewis, the one promoted, she rescinded the offer and told the hotel manager she lacked the “Midwestern girl look” and that she did not have the “prettiness” necessary for the front desk. Naturally, Lewis was more than upset; after all, she had already received the promotion. When Lewis questioned the demotion, she was fired. She sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Her lawyers successfully proved their client did not need to show evidence that men were treated the same or differently, but instead, gender stereotyping was sufficient to establish the claim of discrimination. Her attorney produced the right evidence that was reasonable in that a jury could infer her demotion and eventual discharge was because of her sex.

In a time when the economy is still attempting to recover and people are finally beginning to pick up the pieces of their lives and careers, cases such as these are important, says A. Harrison Barnes. “People want to know their jobs are due to their skills, experience and abilities, not whether they have the right level of attractiveness” says the founder. He continues, “This case highlights the discrimination that unfortunately still exists in the American employment sector”.

Legal careers are made on cases such as these and the team Lewis chose successfully made sure her voice was heard. As a result, the plaintiff in this case can move forward in her career knowing her level of experience and abilities will determine how far she advances in her career. The confidence she surely gained will serve her well and the knowledge that she played a significant role in the way others will be promoted should give her reason to stand tall and remain true to her beliefs. And this, says Barnes, is what the legal profession is – and always has been – about.

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