Makeup and Women at Work

52 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2006

See all articles by Devon W. Carbado

Devon W. Carbado

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

G. Mitu Gulati

Duke University School of Law

Gowri Ramachandran

Southwestern Law School


This is a story about gender, makeup and the law. Darlene Jespersen, a bartender, was fired from her job of fifteen years at Harrah's Casino because she refused to wear makeup. Jespersen responded with a lawsuit that traveled to the Ninth Circuit, where she was represented by LAMBDA Legal, the preeminent gay rights litigation organization. Makeup, some will argue, is a trivial thing. Why would Darlene Jespersen (choose to) lose her job over makeup? More generally, how did favoring (as opposed to prohibiting) a practice that so many women (but not men) engage in become the basis for a sex discrimination suit? Why was LAMBDA involved? What is at stake? Isn't makeup a vehicle for women to express their autonomy and individuality? Finally, do we really want the federal government involved in policing employers' makeup policies?

Because anti-discrimination law has been wedded to a biological conception of sex, it has not grappled well with sex discrimination cases that implicate makeup and grooming. This is particularly problematic in today's labor market because few contemporary employers are likely to exclude all women from their workplace; they are far more likely to engage in intra-gender screening based on whether a woman's self presentation is in accord with social scripts about gender normative behavior. Using Jespersen as a point of departure, we reveal how makeup is implicated in this screening process and explain why its regulation ought to be conceptualized as a form of discrimination on the basis of sex.

Keywords: anti-discrimination laws, discrimination on the basis of sex

Suggested Citation

Carbado, Devon W. and Gulati, Gaurang Mitu and Ramachandran, Gowri, Makeup and Women at Work. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (CR-CL), 2006, Available at SSRN:

Devon W. Carbado (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
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310-825-3365 (Phone)
310-825-6023 (Fax)

Gaurang Mitu Gulati

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

Gowri Ramachandran

Southwestern Law School ( email )

3050 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
United States

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