Smart Women, Stupid Shoes, and Cynical Employers: The Unlawfulness and Adverse Health Consequences of Sexually Discriminatory Workplace Footwear Requirements for Female Employees
22 Journal of Corporation Law, pp. 295-329, Winter 1997
36 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2013
Date Written: 1997
The article raises a critical but curiously neglected medical and legal issue for working women: do they have the right to wear whatever shoes are best for their health at work? No published clinical studies yet have focused on the subset of foot problems caused by dress-code policies that employers discriminatorily impose as conditions of employment on female employees. This Article takes up the challenge by surveying a high-profile occupational group, female flight attendants, who have long been subject to strict employer policies requiring them to wear certain kinds of shoes. As a result, these women have faced a Hobson’s choice between getting or keeping a job and their continued ability to walk unimpaired.
The article first examines the history of the medical establishment’s reaction to high-heeled footwear in Part II and then in Part III then presents a unique set of data on the footwear rules that U.S. airlines unilaterally prescribe for female flight attendants. Parts IV and V analyze the right that flight attendants and other female workers have under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 not to be required to wear unhealthful shoes as a condition of employment. Finally, Part VI turns to the applicability of other statutory regimes. A dress code might seem to some a petty complaint, yet the total lack of justification for imposing a proven health-hazard on employees sheds uncommon light on one segment of the seamless web of the undemocratic workplace.
Keywords: high heels, medical history, flight attendants, airline industry, Title VII, employment discrimination
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