The EEOC has opened its own investigation (without a complaint from a would-be plaintiff) into the hiring practices of a Massachusetts-based coffee chain. Marylou’s Coffee apparently has a habit of hiring attractive women to serve its customers. This is sort of the “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” paradigm I’ve blogged about before, only upside down. The EEOC’s position could be that it is illegal to discriminate against the unattractive. But unless this correlates with a protected category (race, color, gender, disability, religion, for example), it’s hard to see how this gets anywhere. I do not think we are about to see a push for legislation protecting the unattractive (and who would want to sue under that statue anyway? “I’m so ugly I didn’t get hired. No, really, I am THAT ugly.”) Yet I am concerned about where the EEOC thinks it is going on this one. Remember, no one complained about Marylou’s Coffee. The EEOC just decided to dig in on its own. Maybe it is looking for a connection to an actual protected category. I sure hope so.
Side note: a few jurisdictions already cover physical appearance as a protected category, so if you are doing business in one of these spots, be aware. In D.C., “personal appearance” is a protected category. Santa Cruz has an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on “physical characteristics.” And Michigan’s anti-discrimination statute includes height and weight in its protected categories, which could be proxies for appearance-based discrimination.