IT MUST HAVE SEEMED LIKE A GREAT idea to Continental executives. Trying to work its way back from bankruptcy, the airline decided to try for a look that was more "professional." Henceforth, all ground personnel would dress in no-nonsense navy blue. For men, earrings were out. For women, makeup was in. In fact it was mandatory.

Continental, alas, had not counted on a part-time ticket agent at Boston's Logan International Airport named Teresa Fischette. "I have never worn makeup," says Fischette, 38, who has worked 11 years for various airlines, 2½ of them for Continental behind the ticket counter at Logan. Fischette refused either to gloss up or to hide out in one of the company's nonpublic jobs, and on May 3 she was fired.

"At first I was shocked," Fischette recalls, "but then I was just angry." With the help of the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, she prepared a sex-discrimination complaint against Continental.

"The airline industry in general has had a history of restricting women in the workplace," she argues. "Women couldn't be married, couldn't be over 32, couldn't wear glasses, couldn't be overweight—most of those items have been fought in the legal arena. The makeup thing is the last vestige of imposing the glamour look on women."

In response, Art Kent, Continental's vice president for corporate communications, noted that the new standard was created by a council of 15 employees, seven of whom were women. Fischette, he says, "had 30 days to canvass and take any job which was not a customer-contact job."

With neither side talking compromise, a battle seemed inevitable. Then on May 15—just as Fischette's case began to gather national attention—the unexpected happened: Continental blinked. Fischette was reinstated, with back pay, and the airline's cosmetics code was downgraded from a requirement to a "guideline."

"I'm thrilled," says Fischette, who was sure she would have won the sex-discrimination case in court. After all, she says, "Continental is not asking men to wear toupees if they don't have enough hair."