Too Sexy for My … Job?

Employment defense attorney Samantha N. Hoffman, scion of a surfing clan, on gender-plus discrimination cases

Published in 2015 Southern California Super Lawyers — February 2015

In 2010, the Village Voice ran a cover story on Debrahlee Lorenzana, a woman who claimed she was fired as a business banker in New York for being “too distracting” for male colleagues. The story, as they say, went viral; it was the most-read Village Voice story of the year.

It also brought attention to a growing trend in workplace bias.

“They are called gender-plus discrimination cases—the plus being some characteristic that is in addition to gender where men and women are not being treated the same,” says Samantha Hoffman, who practices employment defense litigation at Jackson Lewis.

Hoffman had a similar case: a woman didn’t get a promotion over a less-attractive woman, and she felt it was because she was too beautiful. “You tell people about this case, and they can’t believe that’s a lawsuit. But that’s sex discrimination,” says Hoffman, who represented the defendant. (One claim was dismissed, the other settled.)

“It can be very sensitive one way or another: A woman can be too beautiful or considered not beautiful enough; but our position was that a [job] has nothing to do with looks whatsoever, and everybody should be held to the standard of, ‘Can you do the job?’ … This is part of the reason Jackson Lewis promotes preventive strategies for the workplace, and why I regularly meet with clients to review handbooks and policies and provide training.

“But beyond this, the claims I see most often these days are disability discrimination-based claims.”

A graduate of Loyola Law School, Hoffman is a descendent of the famous Hoffman surfing clan. Her grandfather, Walter Hoffman, and his brother, the late Phillip “Flippy” Hoffman, were big-wave surfing pioneers; Walter’s daughter Joyce Hoffman, and Samantha’s cousins Christian and Nathan Fletcher are all world-class surfers.

“It’s not a passion of mine,” says Hoffman, whose immediate family consists of her husband and their three dogs. “It is of my family’s, but not mine. I leave that to them. They’re the pros.”

To be sure, her passion is the law.

“Some friends of mine and I have a game we play: ‘If you won the lottery, what would you do the next day?’ I have some lawyer friends who say, ‘I wouldn’t even go back to the office.’ I always say, ‘I’m really fortunate. I would go back right away and do the same thing the next day.’ I love it.”

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