'Beauty Bias' Could Land You in Hot Water for Discrimination

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on October 09, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There are lots of factors that companies can't take into account during hiring but is 'beauty bias' considered unlawful discrimination?

There is some anecdotal evidence that attractive people get preferential treatment in a variety of things including hiring. But in some cases that preference is clearer than others. Marylou's Coffee is an example of where a beauty bias could get your company in legal hot water.

The Massachusetts-based coffee chain has a reputation for hiring young, cute female employees to wear their recognizable pink shirts and sling coffee. Their troubles should be a warning to other companies that follow the same pattern.

Marylou's Coffee has been under investigation by the EEOC since May, reports My Fox Boston. The EEOC claims to be investigating discriminatory hiring although no charges have been filed yet.

The issue appears to be the young and attractive girls that work in the chain's many stores. Marylou's claims it doesn't discriminate but their workforce appears to show some signs of preferential hiring.

There is legal precedent for the idea that discrimination based on attractiveness isn't acceptable.

A federal case about discriminatory hiring of flight attendants found that airlines couldn't prefer female applicants because that wasn't an occupational qualification. While the ruling doesn't specifically speak to 'attractiveness,' it stopped airlines from only hiring young and attractive female flight attendants.

Part of the issue is that certain protected characteristics, such as age and gender, correlate with attractiveness, as noted by Inside Counsel.

Beauty isn't a protected class under federal law. But having a disproportionate number of attractive employees could show evidence of other unlawful discrimination.

Nevertheless some states do protect job candidates and employees from discrimination based on beauty or height and weight. In those jurisdictions the rules could be stricter on acceptable hiring.

Hiring decisions can be tricky. Just keep in mind that certain hiring criteria can overlap with unlawful discrimination -- even if the policy doesn't specifically promote discrimination. If Marylou's Coffee is any lesson, the EEOC is watching.

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