Human Resources News & Insights

Huh? EEOC’s now searching for cases of ‘beauty bias’?

From the No, We’re Not Kidding File: The Boston office of the EEOC has been investigating a chain of coffeehouses because of its alleged practice of hiring attractive young women as servers. Here’s the odd part: Nobody’s filed a complaint. The agency has undertaken the probe on its own initiative.

So it looks as though we can add yet another item to the EEOC’s hit list: Beauty discrimination.

The agency’s rationale for the probe: The “Commission-initiated investigation” was begun because “it’s possible that applicants or employees may not know they’ve been discriminated against, based on their age or any factor, EEOC official Robert Sanders told the Boston Herald.

The company is Marylou’s Coffee, a chain of Massachusetts coffee shops. According to the Herald story, the agency contacted two of Marylou’s rejected job applicants — aged 42 and 55 — and asked them if they’d be willing to join a class-sction lawsuit against the chain.

Actually, there are some spots in the U.S. where discrimination based on appearance is legally banned. According to James McDonald, writing on the Fisher & Phillips blog, Washington, D.C.’s anti-bias statute prohibits discrimination based on “personal appearance.” Michigan bans discrimination based on height and weight; San Francisco has a similar law.

And Santa Cruz, CA bans discrimination based on “physical characteristics,” according to McDonald.

Firing back

The EEOC beauty bias probe’s drawn a lot of gunfire from business leaders. The Herald story quotes David Andelman of the Restaurant and Business Alliance: “It’s outrageous.

“Imagine if the framers of the Constitution knew that federal agents would show up from Washington to Massachusetts for the supposed crime of hiring pretty girls to pour your tea. The framers would take bayonets to each of their throats.”

The best comment we’ve read on the situation comes from Michael Haberman of Omega HR Solutions, who asked: “Who wants to be the first to stand up and say, ‘I’m ugly enough to be in a protected category’?”

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Christon says:

    Does Hooter’s ring a bell?

  2. LOL. One might argue that Hooters has a BFOQ?? haha

  3. While it could be argued that beauty or the lack thereof is not a protected class, the truth is that if places such as these are consistently hiring pretty, young girls as servers at least two illegal discriminatory hiring practices exist…age discrimination and gender bias. Sorry folks, you may think it’s funny but in this economy, even “ugly” people need jobs and this is no laughing matter. This society is already bombarded with what an ideal look is, we do not need to be perpetuating this into the workplace, because all this is essentially saying, if it is true, is that physically attractive people have more value than less physically attractive people. Notice I said “physically attractive” because some of the most physically attractive people are sometimes the ugliest. I doubt this coffee house will be able to prove that being young and attractive is a BFOQ.

  4. to MMAN, I didn’t mean to offend. I actually completely agree with you. I generally try to stay lighthearted. With the country’s current stereotypes and preconceived notions of what “beauty” is, it’s highly reasonable to think that candidates who don’t consider themselves to be beautiful may not apply for fear they won’t “make the cut” regardless of how qualified they may be. This is certainly a problem. Being in our profession, I would much rather hire 1 high quality candidate who may not fit the societal definition of “beauty” and watch my business thrive because of my rational, business centric hiring decision. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Just wasn’t sure about your comment there Brandi!

  6. Common Sense says:

    It could be argued that a pretty waitress can help a coffeehouse/restaurant business as much as a pretty actress may help a film. (Hooter’s wings are not that good). Is attractiveness considered a BFOQ for an actor/actress? if so why not a waitress? Where do the liberal Hollywood elite stand on ugly people? Maybe the EEOC should investigate the big discriminators first.

  7. Christon says:

    You’re right, Common Sense. Hooters food in general is not all that good. Maybe it’s the sports trivia that draws people in. I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

  8. Wants Less Government Interference says:

    This might come off sounding sexist, I don’t want people to think I am a chauvinist, but people rather people served by attractive girls than less attractive girls, it is just a natural response. Many restaurants have found they have better business, like Hooters (which for the record, the food is pretty decent based off of the two times I have gone), so what right does the government have to come in and change the way their business operates when they have found success (legality pending)? Am I saying it is an appropriate way to judge people based on appearance? no. Is it morally proper? no. This is supposedly a capitalistic economy. If a business owner wants to not hire someone, regardless of the reason, they shouldn’t have to. If the general public doesn’t agree with how the business is run, then they will quit going to that business, and it will fail. Let the Invisible Hand do its job, the government should be using its resources on more important things than attacking businesses that don’t want to hire unattractive people. To reiterate: this comment was not meant to anyone in a sexist fashion, it was a statement about what I feel is an overbearing government.

  9. HenryPotter says:

    In a State of Nature, as opposed to the Nanny State, those who are too ugly, nasty and/or stupid to find and hold a job would soon enough starve or otherwise die of untreated illness due to a lack of health insurance, all to the good of our evolving species. But in any case, there are plenty of jobs that don’t require direct contact with customers, most of whom will generally spend more when served by attractive sellers.

  10. Though we can all agree it isn’t “nice” to discriminate, in a free society it isn’t the government which should be setting standards of niceness. I think the EEOC’s mandate is hogwash to begin with, but the concept of discrimination based on the parameters of the 1964 Civil Rights Act have turned out to be the proverbial camel’s nose in the tent. Business suffers when employers cannot make hiring choices for the good of their companies. This results in economic costs to everyone, including fewer jobs and an ailing economy. Sound familiar?

  11. @Everyone…I can’t beleive the way many of you feel on this subject, and you call yourselves HR professionals…you should be ashamed of yourselves. Feeling or saying that it is O.K. to discriminate based on physical appearance is no different than discrimination based on skin color, or ethnic background. Not being able to get a job because of how one looks would be no different than saying one couldn’t start a business because the owner doesn’t possess the look. It’s because of people like you that are unethical that the government had to step in and enact legislation like the Civil Rights Act…geesh, you would think that modern HR professionals would adhere to the spirit of the law rather than the letter. If business has to suffer because it can’t discriminate based on uncontrollable characteristics then let it suffer because this would be a product of a problem with our society and nothing else. Individual freedom, respect, dignity, and equal opportunity should trump any corporate or business interests this country has. The constitution is and was, first and foremost, based on individual liberties with business interests (capitalism and free market society) only coming second to that! However, don’t get me wrong I believe in putting out a professional appearance as far as cleanliness and dress goes and I wouldn’t want to be served by someone who has a “meth mouth” either. But to discriminate against someone wanting a job at a coffee house just because they don’t have “the look” is just absurd.

  12. Wants Less Government Interference Says says:

    I don’t think anyone said it was “o.k.” to discriminate based on physical appearance from a morality stand point, the general consensus is that the government should not be the ones to walk in and do so as we are supposedly in a country that supports a FREE market economy. If a person starts their own business, they are taking a heavy financial risk that will change every aspect of their life (for the most part). If someone is willing to make such a risk, especially when it could potentially create jobs, then why not let them hire on whatever basis they want? On that note, I completely disagree with your analogy about not hiring based on ethnicity, skin color etc, and being unable to start a business because of not possessing “the look”, you are comparing apples and oranges. You are saying that is constitutional to take away the business owner’s right to choose who he (not the government) pays to work for him? How is that ethical? Again, I do not operate under any such stereotypes and do not appreciate being called unethical. I have hired people from multiple ethnic backgrounds, genders, and both people I considered attractive as well as unattractive. I just support the rights of a business owner to choose how to operate his/her own business. This case is especially absurd because no one even complained! The EEOC had nothing better to do so they are stirring up trouble to make it look like they are being productive.

  13. Common Sense says:

    @MMAN. You sure hit the nail on the head. Thank you yet again for pointing out how we as true HR Professionals should act and why we should be “ashamed” of our “unethical” behavior, for not kowtowing to the the EEOC’s onerous regulations that go against basic human nature “geesh”. As always your moral compass will lead us down the righteous path. We now know that we were wrong to fight against the intrusive nature of big government. If we could all simply learn your valuable lessons, we would be able to live joyously in the micro-managed utopia of federal bureaucrats.
    And thanks for backing up your statements with your misunderstanding of the constitution. Like the Article said:“Imagine if the framers of the Constitution knew that federal agents would show up from Washington to Massachusetts for the supposed crime of hiring pretty girls to pour your tea. The framers would take bayonets to each of their throats.”

  14. @Common Sense…it could also be argued that it is basic human nature to hire or let’s say lean toward people who are more like themselves such as the same race, ethinicity, religious background etc. But sir, allowing a businesses to hire on these premises, I do not feel, is conducive to what we all value as a country as a whole, that “all men (and women) are created equal”. The key word here being “all”. Holding pathetic ideals such as yours most definitely contradicts this assertion and this fundamental value of the Declaration of Independence, a precursor to our U.S. Constitution. I get so tired of people always referencing the U.S. Constitution but never addressing the ideals of the Declaration of Independence without which there would be no U.S. Constitution. The ideals espoused in each must be taken together. To be honest, businesses that would hire on such a discriminatory basis I hope would fail.

  15. Common Sense says:

    MMAN I knew you were going to respond with the “basic human nature to discriminate against race, religion…” That’s where I would have gone too if I was forced debate the wrong side of this argument. However, I think most people realize that these are often considered undesirable traits of human nature. (although it is a part of human nature that has probably served well in the past as a survival instinct). And most people are comfortable with some level of anti-discrimination laws on these racial/religious basis. But please don’t tell me you are for the intense intrusive nature that comes with the government telling us that we can not hire another pretty girl until we hire an ugly one. How exactly would you propose this should work? Would a judge decide who is pretty and who is ugly? Should it be the unappointed bureaucrats that assess whether or not a business has too many ugly people?
    “Hi, I am John from the EEOC, do you mind if I have a look around… Ah yes, it seems to me your ratio of uglies to beauties is off by 13%. You are going to need to correct this by hiring two more “ugly” people or firing two “pretty” people by next month or be subject to a $1000 daily penalty. thank you have a good day.”
    I am sorry that my “pathetic” ideals of freedom do not hold up to your ideals of absolute perfectly enforced equality in every facet of life that will be enforced by the iron hand of big brother.
    You say you “get so tired of people always referencing the U.S. Constitution but never addressing the ideals of the Declaration of Independence” but you are the one who has cited and skewed the ideals of the constitution. Do you really think the founding fathers would agree with you over me on this point? Can you possibly imagine Benjamin Franklin drafting a law that would give the EEOC permission to sue a coffeehouse on this basis?

  16. Wants Less Government Interference Says says:

    You keep avoiding what we are saying, this has nothing to do with morality. Its about the government over extending its reach and interfering with the business that are actually helping the economy. If you wanted to start a business with those values, and the government some government entity stepped in saying you had to do something different, I would jump to your defense too because that is nonsense. By the government telling that company that they can’t hire people based on their own personal preferences is the same as the government telling that business owner how to spend his own money that he earned with the business he started. THAT is completely immoral and unconstitutional. How would you feel if you saved up for you dream house and the government stepped in and said “Nope, you can’t buy that one, its too good looking. You gotta get that one across the street that’s a lot older and not what you really want.”?

  17. Wants Less Government Interference Says says:

    I should probably add that all of my comments have been directed at MANN.

  18. @NMAN
    “If business has to suffer because it can’t discriminate based on uncontrollable characteristics then let it suffer…” Your statement expresses perfectly how government busybodies view the business and economic concerns of the rest of us. This is precisely why they are losing the faith of the public which must deal with the inane mentality they bring to the discussion.
    My position is that businesses, like people, should be free to discriminate based on anything they see is in their best interest. Yes, this would lead to some injustice, however, if you think the government is eliminating injustice by acting as arbiter of hiring practices, then you are delusional. The injustice is merely less rational, less foreseeable, and ultimately deadly to the economy and job market.
    It is anathema to some, but my experience leads me to know that individuals are mostly fair and compassionate. Those who are least so get jobs implementing federal policies

  19. Common Sense says:

    @MMAN Let me ask you a couple of questions since you seem to know such a firm grasp on the Founding Father’s attitudes, the declaration of independence and the constitution.

    1)Were the founding fathers inspired by Patrick Henry’s treasonous speech that said “Give me liberty or give me death” or were they inspired by a speech that said “Give me perfect government mandated equality or give me death”?

    2)Did the founding fathers risk their lives and commit treason against England because they felt ugly girls did not have good waitress jobs or because they were trying to break away from a big tyrannical government?

  20. You all (and by all, I mean all commenters) are starting to get way too mean about this. I don’t really see anyone offering solutions…just bickering about what they do or don’t like. We aren’t ever going to agree on everything, if we did we wouldn’t have a need for government or even police. So, rather than bicker and fight, could we channel our energy toward constructive conversation geared toward working together utilizing each of our strengths and knowledge. This may get the attack turned on me, that’s ok…I just would like to see fellow professionals act more…um..well….professional.

  21. @CS…until we see each other as equal and look beyond things such as physical characteristics whether it be race, sex, and/or “looks” (those that would not preclude us from performing a job correctly), we will never have true liberty, not in this country, not in the world. Those that would judge people on these basis are in bondage themselves. You are the one who seem to feel they have a “firm grasp” on the Founding Father’s attitudes almost as if you were there with them.

  22. @Brandi People who are paid to argue over such matters (politicians) can’t even get others to agree with themselves. Did you really expect a debate here to end in one of them saying, “you know what your right…” Frankly I find this all rather entertaining and a good spirited debate. At least when these things debates happen here, people don’t have to act professional and tip toe around, its the advantage of being anonymous. Here’s my solution, if the allegedly ugly girls didn’t like the outcome, they should start their own coffee business and then beat the other one into the ground. If there’s a will there’s a way, and hate tends to be a good motivator in such matters.

  23. Common Sense says:

    @MMAN You say that I am “the one who seems to feel they have a “firm grasp” on the Founding Father’s attitudes almost as if you were there with them.” I agree, I do feel I have a better grasp than you, thanks for noticing. That is why I asked you the two questions to prove my point. I am still waiting for an answer though.

    I did not know I was in bondage myself because I have a preference for pretty girls over ugly girls. I think my wife already knew that though.

    @Brandi. Sorry if that sounded too mean and unprofessional.

    @WLGI well said.

  24. @Common Sense…you sooooo misconstrued my point. Even I appreciate a good looking woman and I for one also am glad I feel I have a very attractive wife. However, to drag these issues (biases) into the workplace, especially in this economy when pretty girls and not-so-pretty girls both need to make a living, is quite sad. And if the government that “we the people” elect to “represent” us feel that it is a good idea for them to get involved to put a stop to it, then so be it. That is what the government is supposed to do when we elect them, to act on the best behalf of the people they represent. Other than that, if “we the people” as a majority do not feel they are acting on our behalf, we need to get them out of office.

  25. HR Ninja says:

    I would rather take the ugly candidate who will deliver excellent customer service and do the job right than the highly attractive candidate who may or may not bring in more business. In the end, if you don’t have top notch service, you’re going to lose customers no matter what your staff looks like.

  26. Common Sense says:

    @MMAN: You soooo misconstrued the constitution, declaration of independence and our founding fathers intentions. I am Still waiting for you to answer my two questions. The answer to those questions will guide you to the correct course of action to this situation.

    You say: “And if the government that “we the people” elect to “represent” us feel that it is a good idea for them to get involved to put a stop to it, then so be it. That is what the government is supposed to do when we elect them, to act on the best behalf of the people they represent.”

    Unfortunately, these people were not elected representatives we can simply vote out. They are busy-body doo-gooder liberal bureaucrats from the EEOC trying to justify their existence by fabricating lawsuits where not even the potential plaintiffs made a complaint.

  27. Maybe someone from the EEOC has a relative (daughter, niece, etc) that applied to this coffee house…her looks are implied by the pending suit. just sayin’

  28. @Common Sense…you are missing the point here, drastically. Maybe the people at the EEOC were not voted in but the people that created the agency and made appointments to the same are. But here are the answers to your questions which I thought I already addressed.

    1. Sure the answer is “Give me liberty or give me death” but I also let you know my interpretation of that statement and the pervasiveness of it when I said “until we see each other as equal and look beyond things such as physical characteristics whether it be race, sex, and/or “looks” (those that would not preclude us from performing a job correctly), we will never have true liberty, not in this country, not in the world. Those that would judge people on these basis are in bondage themselves” and create more bondage for those they discriminate against may I add.

    2.They risked their lives and committed treason against England because they were trying to break away from a big tyrannical government to create their own government of a free society in which “all men (and women) are created equal”. Is that plain enough for you?

  29. Common Sense says:

    @HRNinja If that is the choice, I agree. But, why would you automatically assume the ugly canadidate will deliver excellent customer service and do the job right while the attrative candidate may not? No one ever implied the attractive candidates did not perform well.

  30. I like Brandi’s theory.
    @MMAN: Why not just let that business fail when the overwhelming number of out raged customers quits buying coffee there because of their injustice? That way the majority of the people will decide if the business should live or not.
    Going to throw you a curve ball question: do you not think that all of these laws are not causing reverse racism/sexism? I got turned down from jobs and scholarship, where I know for a fact that I was more qualified for the position and scholarship because I’ve met many of the people who received the job or scholarship over me, because I am a white male. I had a friend in college who got a full academic ride when his grades were lower than mine, and the only reason he got it was because he was a minority (fun fact, he flunked out of school). I applied to a local bank (I have two degrees in Business Administration and Economics and I graduated with honors) where I didn’t receive any of the banking positions and I found out that everyone who worked there was either a minority or a woman. I go to this bank everyday to deposit money, because our accounting lady is very busy, and those tellers can hardly do math! Did the EEOC voluntarily go after that bank when I didn’t complain? They sure didn’t, and I wouldn’t expect them to because I support that bank managers freedom to have preferences. Government regulation isn’t going to make this county more open minded, its probably actually making it more narrow minded about such things because many people are getting upset that minorities are getting special treatment for doing the same amount of work/less than the majority. It will take time to reach your desired state of equality, but it can’t be rushed by government agencies stirring up trouble to make sure they get to keep a job.

  31. @WLGI: I’ve often thought of that issue myself. I knew an HR Manager that once said “if we have two applicants and one of them is a minority, the minority is getting hired.” There was no further discussion about qualifications or skills and abilities. That clearly is another side to this legally charged equation.

  32. @WLGI…I feel reverse discrimination should be outlawed as well. However, all I am saying is business should be making hiring decisions on qualifications alone and no other criteria should matter.

  33. I do not know how I feel about this one, because just because nobody complains does not make it discrimination. Hooters got away with hiring cute girls for a long time because people just accepted it. Somebody has to say something.

  34. B Cardwell says:

    @WLGI: If as you say you did not get a position because of discrimination (reverse??) that is NOT what equal rights is about, and you are entitled to file a complaint.

    Honestly I have been in this business a long time, and do not know of one instance where a white male was denied a position in favor of a minority (race, ethnicity or gender) skills and abilities being equal. Just does not happen in America!

    @Brandi: Yes, I did hear once someone say “if we have two applicants and one of them is a minority, the minority is getting hired”. However, the qualifier was that the skills, education and abilities were at least equal, and this was the first minority in that position or company, and the company really needed the diversity — so it was a business decision.

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