Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Where do you draw the line?

There have been a few posts regarding height and weight discrimination in the workplace in response to the bill that Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing is trying to make into law.  Along those lines, I found this very interesting article from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis regarding the relationship between physical characteristics of employees and their wage.  According to the article, "The average CEO is approximately 3 inches taller than the average American man, who stands 5-foot-9.  Further, 30 percent of CEOs are at least 6-foot-2; the corresponding percentage for American adult men overall is only 3.9 percent."  The article also gives some pretty clear evidence that factors such as beauty, height, and weight do affect an employee's wage.

I understand the desire to create law protecting employees from discrimination based on height and weight...but what about beauty?  Where should the line be drawn as to which groups get legal protection and which group do not?  Should the law continue to set out regulations and protections for characteristics not covered by Title VII, or is this opening the door to too much government interference in the workplace?


Blogger Sflohr said...

That is a very interesting article you found, Jamie. However if I was to be completely honest I would have to say it sounds a little ridiculous.

First I have questions on the 'beauty' aspect of the argument. Where are the measurements, or how do we judge if someone is 'beautiful'? The author presented some interesting statistics, however I was curious who was making this judgment call on if someone qualified as 'beautiful' or not. At least when you're talking about setting up an anti-discrimination law in regards to weight or height they are categories that are easier to define.

I guess I just have a problem in general with allowing the government so much control over running the private sector of our economy. I mean isn't that the basis of employment-at-will? To allow our business discretion over their own company's hiring decisions as long as they don't violate title VII? Also, if only 30% of CEOs are considered 'above average height' I wonder how tall the other 70% are.

The role of the courts is to enforce these discrimination laws already put into place by Title VII to protect those protected classes that have a history of being discriminated against. Not to create new nit picky laws which could undoubtedly create a very undesirable snowball effect. I mean what's next, a law saying we can't discriminate on eye color, or what about hair color?

10:32 AM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Jami e brings up a very interesting argument about whether or not someone’s beauty should be protected. I think beauty can be different to many people, and just because one employer thinks you’re beautiful the other employer may not. I don’t think the government can pose a restriction on something like beauty. I think that in some cases it would be very hard to draw the line. If both applicants had identical resumes but one was slightly prettier than the other, based on what the employer deemed beautiful then maybe you could make the claim. I just think it would make it too hard for the government in regulating something like this, at least in this point in time.
A side note to this, I was at a bar this past weekend, and I struck up a conversation with a business owner in Indianapolis. We were discussing the issue of hiring people, and I asked him whether or not if the candidates had the same things to offer to a job, but one just happened to be better looking, which he would choose. He told me, that he would hire the better looking one, because it would bring in more customers to his business. I feel like looks should not play that big of a role in whether or not someone gets hired to work for a company. I felt sick to my stomach after what he had told me. This really does happen, but since many people cannot see who they are up against with jobs, they never really know why they were never hired. It’s pretty sad if you think about it…but it happens more than we want to believe.

What would you do if your employer told you something like that? Do you still think you could work with him/her knowning that information?

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Heather said...

I do agree that there needs to be a line drawn to restrict government interference; I think it should be drawn after height and weight. When it comes to setting a law to prohibit discrimination based on beauty, now that is going too far. I agree with the previous posts, no one individual would give the same definition of beauty, so how would the government try to regulate such a broad, individually defined class. I could not see any way the government could even try to regulate discrimination based on an individual’s appearance; however on the other hand, there are distinct lines one could draw to define a typical height and weight, and the evidence of discrimination based on these factors would appear much more clear. Discrimination of the height and weight class would be much more feasible for government to regulate; I think this should be the final straw in setting a law to prohibit discrimination.

3:54 PM  
Blogger spoehner said...

I really enjoyed this article, especially since I have an interest in weight discrimination. I think that in trying to legislate discrimination on "beauty" would be extremely difficult and require too much government interference. However,
I think the line is drawn when attractiveness/beauty is singled out to an individual of a particular characteristic that is protected by Title VII. For instance, not requiring men to look a certain way at work, but requiring women to wear make up, in my opinion, would equate to sex discrimination.

I think this topic of "beauty discrimination" is particularly interesting too because in our culture beauty is equated with youth. So if two employees are the same age, and one is more attractive than the other, that would not constitute discrimination (employers can hire attractive people if they want/prefer, some occupations it may even be a BFOQ). But what if an employer hired a younger employee over an older employee on the basis of attractiveness (the older employee has wrinkles, and the employer wants a fresh face for the company). Could this type of beauty standard constitute age discrimination? I would argue it could.

As I've mentioned in my previous posts, weight discrimination tends to primarily affect women, and that could constitute sex discrimination. Again, when it impedes on someone of a protected characteristic (such as gender) I think is where the line is drawn. And for those who are affected, if an employer wants to hire only attractive people, or people who look a certain way, chances are there will be certain effects (lack of diversity, maybe groupthink?) that I think would hurt the employer in the long run. Who wants to work for a shallow employer anyway?

8:20 PM  
Blogger spoehner said...

I also forgot to mention that, as we read in Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, these behaviors of discrimination start with thoughts and perceptions, which are cultivated throughout our lives by numerous and varied influences and the goal to really changing these things are to be exposed to different and new ideas, as Gladwell mentions at the end of the chapter we read for class.

8:22 PM  

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