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Too hot to work at a lingerie shop?

May 22, 2012 at 1:20 PM ET

Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters /
Lauren Odes and her attorney Gloria Allred (R) speak at a news conference in New York, May 21, 2012. Odes is suing her former employer, caliming she was dismissed for dressing too provocatively.

The website for a Manhattan lingerie boutique called Native Intimates has a photograph of a well-endowed woman pushing her breasts together. So, it’s odd that an employee of the shop is claiming she was fired for being “too hot.”

But that’s exactly what Lauren Odes is alleging.

“When I was first told that I was ‘too hot’ and that my breasts were too large I was shocked,” said Odes in a statement released Tuesday. Her sexy appearance, she said, got her a pink slip from an employer who sells intimate apparel much sexier than your basic slips.

Not surprisingly her story is getting a lot of media attention thanks in part to the celebrity lawyer representing her, Gloria Allred, who held a press conference Monday about the allegations. Allred has taken on many high profile and controversial discrimination cases in her day, including the case of a banker who claimed in 2010 she was fired for being too sexy.

In Odes’ case, however, the work environment would seem a bit more conducive to a little cleavage.

Odes began working for Native Intimates on April 24 handling data entry and shipping tasks, but by May 1 she was out of a job. She alleges her supervisors told her that her choice of clothing was disliked by the company’s owner, an Orthodox Jew.

In a statement, Allred said a complaint has been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in New York claiming Odes “was simply fired for being attractive and for not conforming to the religious strictures imposed by top management, apparently for having female body parts, despite having ably performed her professional duties.”

A woman reached by phone at Native Intimates would only say: “We’re not interested in giving a comment.”

A spokeswoman for the EEOC would not comment on the complaint.

Odes is alleging two types of discrimination: one based on gender and another based on religion.

Being too hot is not a protected category under the nation’s labor laws, but being terminated because you’re a woman or for religious bias is a legal no-no.

It’s unclear exactly why Odes was fired, but what is clear is employers have a lot of latitude in restricting what their employees can wear.

“All companies, regardless of whether they’re selling lingerie or whatever, are permitted to have and enforce dress codes that an owner sees as appropriate,” said Keisha-Ann G. Gray, an employment attorney for Proskauer, a law firm that represents employers. “They are permitted to require their employee to dress conservatively,” she noted, if it’s applied equally among workers of different genders, religions, and races.

Odes said she asked about a dress code when she was hired. She said she was told to look around and see what everyone else was wearing. "The dress varied from very casual athletic wear to business dress,” she said.

She also claimed she was wearing “very covered up attire” but it was her body that was the target of her employer’s disdain. She said that at one point a female employee suggested that she consider taping down her breasts.

Women are often held to a double standard at work when it comes to their appearance, said Anne York, associate professor of economics at Meredith College’s School of Business in Raleigh, N.C.

While a supervisor may have thought she might turn off customers, she said, a well-endowed woman would seem like the perfect fit for a lingerie business. 

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