Friday, May 25, 2012

Is hiring "perky" women to increase business illegal?

A local coffee shop is reportedly under investigation by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for restricting its hiring to young, attractive women. The EEOC has acknowledged that it is investigating Marylou's Coffee, a chain of coffee shops on the South Shore. The coffee shop denies that it discriminates in hiring, but it does not appear to be disputed that the chain employs primarily young, pretty women. The chain's loyal customers and the Boston Herald have jumped to the defense of Marylou's, arguing that private companies should be allowed to hire whomever it wants if it helps increase business. For instance, here's what Herald columnist Michael Graham has to say:

"If you own a business, you hire people who you think will help you make the most money, period. And at Marylou’s, the business model appears to be that, if given the choice of buying coffee from a chubby, grumpy middle-aged guy vs. a cute, bubbly 20-something girl, more people will choose the latter."

The problem with Graham's argument becomes clear when you replace "cute, bubbly 20-something girl" with "white man." It is never legal for a business to discriminate because of the preference of its clientele. If that were allowed, then Jim Crow laws might still be remaining today. I'm sure many business owners in the old South, for instance, might have been fine employing black people if doing so would not have driven off business.

That being said, unattractiveness is not a protected class. If Marylou's only discriminates against people based on looks, that might not violate the law. But as attorney David Belfort told the Herald, "If you're serving coffee, I would think men could serve coffee adequately."

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