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Looks Discrimination: Can You Sue?

If you’re willing to admit you’re unattractive, you just might have a case.

| September 13th, 2011
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Looks Discrimination: Can You Sue?

Tired of pretty people getting a free ride? An economics professor says you might be able to sue.

In his book, “Beauty Pays,” to be published this month, author Daniel S. Hamermesh, Ph.D., claims that the discrimination unattractive folks endure is not unlike that of a racial or religious nature.

In fact, he says, unattractiveness can literally cost you. In one study of American workers whose looks were graded by casual observers, those who ranked in the bottom one-seventh earned between 10 to 15 percent less than the workers who made the top one-third. That’s a lifetime difference of about $230,000.

Other studies in the past couple of decades show that additional earnings aren’t the only ancillary benefit that attractive people enjoy. Getting a better mortgage rate and finding a more financially stable partner have also been proven as more common occurrences among the good-looking.

“In the workplace, we are unconsciously drawn to people who are more attractive, because we assume they have their act together and will be more successful,” says Beverly Hill psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, M.D.

But the idea of suing based on looks discrimination begs the question: How can you legally determine if someone is unattractive or not?

Hamermesh says it’s not about objectively defining beauty, but rather, bringing a case to court just like someone who is disabled and feels discriminated against—and who is currently protected under the law.

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“It’s good-faith effort,” explains Hamermesh. “Such a law would be enforced, basically as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is today, through civil suits brought typically by groups of workers who feel their employer has engaged in a consistent pattern of discrimination.”

As it turns outs, the idea is not so far-fetched. Legal protection against looks discrimination already does exist in some places in the country, like in several California jurisdictions and the District of Columbia, where bias based on what one looks like when hiring or housing is forbidden by law.

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