Monday, April 03, 2006

Who do you prefer?

Many of us will be entering the work force after this semester and we hope that our intelligence, diligence or use of skills will determine how we fair in the market. After reading an article entitled "Legal: Hey Good Lookin': Sex Discrimination in Hiring Reps," a different type of fear begins to arise: am I pretty enough to succeed. Although this seems like a ridiculous standard for many of us, those in the rep business say that being attractive is a key component to sales.

The issue that arises is whether or not businesses can get away with appearance discrimination. The article opens with the case of Marks v. National Communications Association.

" [A] 270-pound telemarketer sued after she failed to obtain a
promotion to an outside sales representative. One of her supervisors told her:
"I've told you, [in] outside sales, presentation is extremely important. Lose
the weight and you will get promoted." The court threw out the case. It observed
that "discrimination based on weight alone, or on any other physical
characteristic for that matter, does not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964 unless issues of race, religion, sex, or national origin are
intertwined." The court found that the plaintiff failed to prove her case
because she could not identify any overweight men who were working as outside
sales representatives."

Who would of thought that those applying for jobs must realize that they could be at a disadvantage not based on their college academics but because they are not what that company deems as attractive. There are new rumbling in California for discrimination based on appearance. Yet, a reasonable question arises in appearance discrimination cases: who determines attractiveness? Is it enough to have a judge deem someone unattractive or do we need expert panels including movie stars and plastic surgeons. Determining beauty in a courtroom seems rather far fetched and open to debauchery.

The article also mentions employers using "bona fida occupational qualifications" in order to discriminate based on appearance.

"Under such a standard, a drug company would have to show that a sales rep would
be unable to perform the job of selling drugs unless he or she was physically

It is rather interesting that the final section of this article almost helps formulate a plan for pharmaceutical sales companies to avoid being liable for appearance discrimination. The author lists points such as both men and women need to be attractive and that other skills should be documented in hiring cases.

I feel that the class could have a lot to say about this especially since most of us have been through interviews and some have even looked into sale rep jobs. Think about the following questions.
  1. How would you feel going into an interview wondering about your physical attractiveness instead of your portfolio?
  2. Who should determine beauty if appearance based discrimination cases start to appear in the courts?
  3. Do you feel attractiveness should be something that employers use to decide your worth in hiring?


Blogger John Kluka said...

This is such an interesting topic because of how relevant it really is. After doing my research paper on the Abercrombie & Fitch employment problems, I feel that appearance based discrimination is unethical, but at the same time it part of life and we all have to deal with.

I think that going into an interview, we all try to look the best we can. That’s why we put on our formal business attire and groom ourselves appropriately, whether that means shaving or putting on makeup or whatever else you may do. We do this because we know that our interviewer will be judging us on how we look! Unfortunately, that means our actual attractiveness level will be judged as well. It may not have anything to do with how good we would be on the job but that’s just the way it is.

As far as who should determine attractiveness, I don’t think anyone has too. That’s part of the appearance discrimination. If you don’t want to hire someone because of their appearance and their appearance is not linked to some protected characteristic (EX: race, national origin, sex, disability, age) under federal or state laws, then you don’t have to hire them. Appearance discrimination is perfectly legal in that sense so if the employer could prove that they did not hire someone because of their appearance alone, then the court would just drop the case and no one would have to decide anything.

Finally, I absolutely believe that employers use appearance-based discrimination in hiring. In fact, I would say that 100% of all companies use it. Image discrimination is simply an inherent and unconscious part of everyone’s psyche. Many studies have shown that this good looks bias is even displayed by infants who tend to gaze longer at a more attractive face compared with a less attractive one. Even if you don’t know that you are discriminating based on looks you probably still are unconsciously. Here is a few statistics that actually came from our textbook on page 271 about how appearance based discrimination is used in the workplace:
• Most employers pay overweight women 20 percent less per hour than women of average weight.
• Men who are 6 feet two inches or taller receive starting salaries 12 percent greater than men under 6 feet.
• Very attractive men and women earn at least 5 percent more per hour than people with average looks.

Bennett-Alexander, David D. and Laura P. Hartman. Employment Law for Business:
Fifth Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2007.

I am not saying that I agree that appearance-based discrimination being perfectly ok because I do no not think that at all. I am simply saying that it is out there and it is used by us all and it would be very difficult to stop.

9:07 PM  
Blogger A. Das said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:53 PM  
Blogger A. Das said...

I regrettably agree with John. I wish that employment decisions were not based on appearance, but we have to accept that as part of the business world we live in. Companies are out to promote a certain image. And when you are a representative of a company who is interacting with the public, your company wants to make sure it is promoting the "right" image. I think we have all heard it a hundred times: the first few minutes of an interview (or any interaction) is always the most important because that is the impression/image that the interviewer will take away with him/her about you. I'm not saying that an overweight person cannot make a good impression. I'm just saying that not everyone views everyone else with an unbiased eye. And in order to account for that, businesses are hiring attractive employees and reps. I hope that I am wrong about this, but I think that this is the unfortunate landscape of business today. While I hate the idea of appearance discrimination, I also have respect for a company's desire to push a certain image.


1:56 PM  

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