Beauty and the Briefs

The Northern District Court Illinois ruled that an attorney who was told she wasn’t “pretty enough” has grounds for damages in a case of age discrimination and whistleblower retaliation.

The City of Evanston, Illinois, population 75,000, is located just 12 miles north of Chicago, and the City apparently has an abundance of attractive attorneys.

Among several complaints of ageism and sexism leveled against the City, former Assistant City Attorney Elke Tober-Purze revealed that one male supervisor told her that previous female attorneys hired by the City were smart, good-looking (“just gorgeous”), and that these attractive attorneys wore tight sweaters and short skirts.

The supervisor further claimed that Tober-Purze was “not that pretty”.

Pretty or not, Tober-Purze received regular promotions, sufficient performance reviews, and no disciplinary actions, and yet she received a lower salary that her male counterparts. Despite Tober-Purze’s relevant experience and the experience of other females on staff, the City went outside of its existing employees to hire a younger male, W. Grant Farrar, as its City Attorney.

Additionally, the City is alleged to have a penchant for terminating older female employees and replacing them with younger workers.

Things got even uglier when Tober-Purze requested a vacation accrual payment, consistent with the City’s policy. Her supervisor told her she would lose a quarter of her accrued time, and he warned her against making a complaint regarding the lost hours.

Tober-Purze filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL), and shortly after the City received notification of the complaint, Tober-Purze was terminated for “ongoing performance issues” and for her complaint with the IDOL.

Tober-Purze’s case made four claims:

  • Sex discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
  • Age discrimination, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
  • Violation of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, for failure to pay vacation and sick time.
  • Violation of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act for unlawful retaliation.

The court found that, among other items, Tober-Purze had successfully triggered protection under the ADEA by proving she:

  • Was more than forty years old.
  • Performed her job according to employer expectations.
  • Suffered an adverse employment action.
  • Was treated less favorably than similarly situated and younger employees.