June 12, 2006

Is it legal to fire a woman because her breasts are too large?

Here's a lawsuit charging sexual harassment and wrongful dismissal -- in the very particular case of a dancer hired for a role in an ensemble, whose breasts later became enlarged. It's the reverse of the story of the dancer in "A Chorus Line" who sings the song "Dance, Ten, Looks, Three," about not getting hired until she got herself enhanced. In this case, it should be noted, the dancer, Alice Alyse says she did not have surgery.
Musical theater is an entertainment outlet that routinely depicts women as sexpots, curvy dimwits and window dressing -- so if you believe Alyse's account, the hypocrisy is evident. Allegedly getting fired for the prudish-sounding sin of busting out of one's costume is even more surprising given that Tharp's all-dance spectacular bumps and grinds from start to finish. With Joel's rock-and-roll framing a Vietnam-era loss-of-innocence tale, the show ["Movin' Out"] rides on an orgy of go-go.

But the dance world doesn't necessarily view such firing decisions as hypocritical; they are merely business as usual. The Body Police enforce specifications that have nothing to do with the ability to perform. Some women have resorted to breast reduction to conform with the slim standards of ballet. Anastasia Volochkova, a leading ballerina at Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet, made headlines two years ago over a similar issue, when she was fired for being too fat (at a reported weight of 110 pounds). She sued for damages and was unsuccessful, though she did get her job back.

Alyse is fighting back with a $100 million lawsuit that names Tharp, the production stage manager and the show's producers among the defendants (though not Joel). And if the dollar amount weren't attention-getting enough, Alyse has hired onetime Washington gadfly Larry Klayman, a notoriously combative attorney who, judging from his record, relishes a scandal. Klayman, founder of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, became famous for suing the Clinton administration over numerous alleged coverups and conspiracies. More recently, he has taken on top Republicans, including Vice President Cheney, over his secretive energy task force.
Oh, that's rich! I really didn't expect to find Cheney in this article. Or Judicial Watch. Apparently, they're watching out for things watched more commonly than judges.
In the suit, [Klarman] reconstructs the alleged comments of production stage manager Eric Sprosty when he first saw Alyse outside the wardrobe fitting room after she returned to the show. Such as: "We hired you at a size C and now you're a [expletive] D!... You need to lose those boobs now!"

"He was screaming at me and I was apologizing," Alyse says of her run-in with Sprosty, her forehead crinkling at the thought. "I was being apologetic that I had boobs. I thought, 'I'm going to lose my job -- and I'm still skinny!' "

"It's a virtue to have bigger breasts on Broadway, in my expert opinion," Klayman observes one balmy evening, over dinner with Alyse at a seaside restaurant called Bongos.
Wait a second... I need to laugh....
Yet big breasts cannot truly be said to be a virtue for a dancer, unless her routine includes thigh-high boots and a pole. The Ziegfeldian hourglass shape has flattened out over time. On current stages, in the view of many directors and choreographers, a B cup might be just sexy enough, while a D may be too much. From ballet companies to Broadway, the preferred look is slender, long-stemmed and minimally jiggly. Especially when we're talking about fitting into a group, whether a kick line or the corps de ballet.
Yes, come on. It's distracting. It's an aesthetic judgment.
God forbid anyone should stick out. Prevailing theater wisdom warns that an ensemble dancer must not distract, and in many shows, that means buxom chorines no longer need apply. A D cup, according to Roberta Stiehm, a musical theater veteran, could commit the major no-no of pulling focus.

"I want to stick up for this girl," said Stiehm, a Maryland ballet and Pilates teacher who had featured roles in "Cats" and "A Chorus Line." "But I have to tell you, what if Pamela Anderson were a great dancer? You couldn't use her.
But good thing there are fancy lawyers willing to stick up for those who stick out.

Wow, this article goes on and on. Washington Post articles have a way of doing that. And how often do you get a chance at a subject like this? It's very complex, with lots of angles, and it's about big breasts!

But read to the end. The dancer is actually quite sympathetic.

25 comments:

Adam said...

Though none of them would comment for this article, [Billy]Joel has weighed in. Shortly after Alyse filed suit in March, he told the New York Daily News: "Under no circumstances would I ever have anyone fired for having breasts that were too large."

Now, I'm no sexual harassment lawyer, but I'm guessing that quote was ill-advised.

David said...

For women, never have breasts larger than the Prima Donna. For men, watch the size of your cod-piece unless you want to wear it in the unemployment line!

Size does matter!

MadisonMan said...

Her Mom sounds really nice!

I was amazed that she makes $130K a year! That ain't hay.

Icepick said...

They fired her over her breast size? What a bunch of boobs!

(Oh, come on. Someone had to say it.)

amba said...

Tits again! No, that word is too small -- bongos. And they relate to everything -- politics, Cheney and his task force!

Dave said...

I don't understand the logic behind these types of lawsuits.

Seems to me that the costs incurred by the plaintiff, in time and cash terms, are greater than merely finding a different job.

But that's just me. Obviously many lawyers have gotten very wealthy off these types of lawsuits.

Marghlar said...

I'm reminded of Elaine's failed sexual harassment lawsuit against the diner, because of their (barely) unstated policy of only hiring zoftig women:

Atty 1: Have you hear of this? Apparently there is a diner on the west side that hires only large breased women!

Atty 2: We've got to get over to that diner right away.

Goesh said...

-riding an orgy of go-go, and robust, flopping mammary glands, no wonder I keep coming back here...

Glenn Howes said...

Marghlar said...
I'm reminded of Elaine's failed sexual harassment lawsuit against the diner, because of their (barely) unstated policy of only hiring zoftig women:


Just to clarify. That was Elaine's perception of the situation. In the end, it was revealed that all the waitresses were the daughters of the new owner.

Mr. Magoo said...

Glenn: not a very helpful "clarification," since the basic idea was right in the first place: the attorneys all went to eat there -- repeatedly -- because of the large breasted waitresses.

So, too, lots of people will now be coming to this site in the hopes of seeing (not reading about) the same.

Jennifer said...

Amba - LOL. She could star in the musical you and Ann were going to write - Tits!

This doesn't seem all that complicated. Reduce them or get a different job. It's not like she's too short or too ugly or something unremediable. Talented dancers who are too short, too ugly, too stocky, too whatever get pushed out of the business all the time.

PatCA said...

"American culture is hopelessly confused about women's bodies."

This article hit the trifecta: sneers at American culture, women, and lawyers.

GC said...

i was just "next blog"-ing it and saw the name of the post and had to comment.

the entertainment industry, adult or otherwise, is often under relentless pressure to maximise 'exposure' and profit in an extremely hostile enviroment. this not only fosters these perceptions and judgements in the minds of the producers and owners, but causes people (consumers, though i despise that assignment) to demand the maximum in whatever creative endevor ... the most stimularing line-up, the most beautiful dancer or model, re-enforced time and again by advertisments. this leads to an inablity to look past knee-jerk stereotypes to look deeper at people, their beauty, and their talents.

suing is an advertisment unto itself and will solve nothing, support ... nothing.

ultimately, the power resides in the consumer, the 'digestor' of entertainment, and the call must go out to reject the constraint on acceptable variations in women ... and reject it hard in all forms encountered with the almighty dollar.

GC

MadisonMan said...

I should think a good defense would be to show the jury pictures of Ms. Alyse before and after. Presumably she, er, sticks out more in the after shots, and draws more focus, as they say.

The lawyer is guilty of chasing a sex story. What if Ms. Alyse had grown 3 inches in height during her lay-off? Would she still have cause because she was suddenly taller?

David said...

I disapprove of suits like this in the entertainment industry. If an accountant, say, were fired because of her breast size, that would be discriminating on a non-job-related factor. But, appearance is relevant to dancers.

I'm afraid some jury will substitute their judgment for the director's. That is, they could agree that appearance is a job-related factor, but decide that big breasts are OK. A decision like this would be a kind of free speech violation, in my opoinion.

Bissage said...

No tatoos.

Bummer.

Jennifer said...

Well, Bissage, you'll just have to take tit for tat. :)

PG said...

On the rationale that all the dancers must look the same, however, casting directors once excluded women of color. So clearly some "Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications" aren't permitted.

I just don't see how the case Klayman alludes to, of sex and national origin discrimination, is going to work. A male dancer who became noticeably fattier in his chest, requiring costume alterations and changing the look of the chorus line, could be fired. And the national origin claim seems to have come entirely based on the plaintiff's mother being Latina, without any nexus to the facts.

But I'm also confused why the Post writer found it SO STRANGE that a woman's bustline might increase naturally.

Goatwhacker said...

We shouldn't make any snap judgements here. I for one would like to study both sides very closely.

ignacio said...

Melanie Griffith had her breasts surgically enlarged during the shooting of the ill-fated film based on "The Bonfire of the Vanities." As she had already appeared in some scenes, and the difference was quite noticeable, director Brian de Palma was appalled.

But she did this for her "self-esteem."

ignacio said...

Joanna Angel, star of "Neu Wave Hookers" and "Joanna's Angels," says that she has increased the size of her breasts through birth-control pills.

Telecomedian said...

I would guess a female would be better at answering this, but couldn't she have some sort of a minimizer put in her costume(s)?

Also, I was under the impression that breasts can change size depending on diet, exercise, body fat percentage, child birth, etc...

Alas, all tihs tempest in a d-cup.

Joshuathomas said...

Got a response before I could finish my sandwich. Apply online for credit cards here and get approved very fast, just like me.

Fredipus Rex said...

Huh - I went to high school with Eric Sprosty. He was our class president. I wonder what happened to the lawsuit...

Fredipus Rex said...

Huh - I went to high school with Eric Sprosty. He was our class president. I wonder what happened to the lawsuit...