Fashion feud: High end fashion manager alleges orders to cull "old and ugly" employees
In a messy case in Tokyo, a former high end retail manager claims she was harassed and discriminated against because of her appearance.
Worse, she claims she was told to "eliminate" other employees who were "old, fat, ugly, disgusting or not having the brand's look." Ouch.
The employee was responsible for 500 employees across 40 stores. She alleges the incident occurred when the brand's CEO visited several stores and identified around 15 employees whose appearance was inconsistent with the brand.
The employee claims she later received directives via the human resources manager to lose weight and change her hairstyle.
The case was dismissed by the Tokyo District Court, with the judge concluding the employee had not adequately established her claim that senior management had called her "ugly." The employee labelled the judge's finding "preposterous."
Would the case hold up in Australia? Well, that's a tricky question. Elements of the complaint, such as calling someone old, would be unlawful but only Victoria has specific legislation outlawing discrimination on the grounds of physical features. In other states, claims for discrimination on grounds of physical features can only succeed if they are attached to other forms of discrimination. Physical feature is not as broad as physical appearance and is defined as a person's height, weight, size, shape or other bodily characteristic. It includes facial features, hair and birthmarks. For example, a company only recruits people with a certain 'look', that is, a specific height, weight and build.
Many companies – particularly fashion and hospitality brands – see their employees as extensions of their brand image. The lack of legislation around this further complicates an already grey area.
For employers, the general advice is to tread carefully. Think about the inherent requirements of the job. Ensure your recruitment and staff management processes reflect this approach, to avoid discriminating directly or indirectly.