(CN) - An Iowa hotel clerk who describes herself as "slightly more masculine" can sue her former employer for allegedly firing her because she wasn't pretty enough and she lacked "the Midwestern girl look," the 8th Circuit ruled.
The St. Louis-based appeals court reinstated Brenna Lewis' lawsuit against Heartland Inns of America.
Lewis said she was fired in 2007 for not conforming to sex stereotypes and for questioning recent policy changes.
Lewis has "an Ellen DeGeneres kind of look," according to her former manager, Lori Stifel.
"Lewis prefers to wear loose fitting clothing, including men's button-down shirts and slacks," the ruling states. "She avoids makeup and wore her hair short at the time. Lewis has been mistaken for a male and referred to as 'tomboyish.'"
The hotel's director of operations, Barbara Cullinan, allegedly said Lewis lacked "the Midwestern girl look," and stressed the importance of having a "pretty" desk staff.
When Cullinan told Stifel to move Lewis to the night shift, Stifel allegedly stuck up for Lewis, saying she had been doing a "phenomenal job at the front desk."
The next week, Cullinan asked Stifel to resign and implemented stricter hiring rules, explaining that "hotels have to have a certain personification and appearance," Lewis claimed.
Judge Diana Murphy reversed the lower court's dismissal, saying Lewis presented enough evidence to survive summary judgment.
"Cullinan's criticism of Lewis for lack of 'prettiness' and the 'Midwestern girl look' before terminating her may ... be found by a reasonable factfinder to be evidence of wrongful sex stereotyping," she wrote.