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Archive for the ‘Employment Law’ Category

Beautiful Law

I came across an interesting article the other day in the New York Times on the subject of employment discrimination — particularly involving discrimination against the “ugly”. That’s right. Believe it or not, employers do turn folks down from positions because of their appearance.

Daniel S. Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas, has recently opted for pursuing legal rights for the ugly:

A more radical solution may be needed: why not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals?

An article by The Economist describes some of the advantages the beautiful people seem to be stealing from the ugly. Indeed, research shows that an American worker who is attractive will make roughly $230,000 more over his/her lifetime than an ugly counterpart — regardless of identical skill sets. In addition, it is also known to most that if you happen to have good looks then you are more likely to be paid higher than someone who has “average” looks. Indeed, conventional wisdom says that employers and supervisors have every right & need to discriminate based upon appearance because it is a marketing strategy that helps sell products and bring quality customer service. It is obvious that those born beautiful get to reap the benefits of their beauty for much of their life, and that maybe it is unfair to those who are not born beautiful.

However, here is what Hamermesh says:

Ugliness could be protected generally in the United States by small extensions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Ugly people could be allowed to seek help from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other agencies in overcoming the effects of discrimination. We could even have affirmative-action programs for the ugly.

This is sort of the problem I have with the whole idea of offering “legal protections for the ugly.” Here, Hamermesh is wanting to extend legal rights/protections for the ugly through the ADA; really, is the level of one’s attractiveness and looks something we should be calling a “disability?” I don’t think so. Maybe if an individual was literally born with a genetic mutation that disfigures the body in a visible way…but how often do we get a case like this? Also, he is suggesting affirmative-action policies which could benefit those who are unfortunate enough to be too ugly to help themselves.

At this point I just throw my hands in the air and say, “What the fuck?” Affirmative action for the ugly? Really? How the hell are we supposed to measure one’s beauty? Affirmative action is already an issue on many different fronts in the race & gender-pool because it merely awards people different advantages simply for pertaining to a certain trait. If you are applying to a prestigious law school with the same credentials as another white person and you are black, it is affirmative action that gives you the upper edge on your application into that law school. It is often said that, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and I think this is very true — so how can it possibly be applied here? I understand that there are many things we Americans can agree upon that are attractive traits: skinny, tan, medium-short height, symmetry, waist-to-hip ratio, breast size, etc. (These are female traits that males generally look for, by the way.) Hamermesh actually gets this part right:

That aphorism is correct in one sense: if asked who is the most beautiful person in a group of beautiful people, you and I might well have different answers. But when it comes to differentiating classes of attractiveness, we all view beauty similarly: someone whom you consider good-looking will be viewed similarly by most others; someone you consider ugly will be viewed as ugly by most others. In one study, more than half of a group of people were assessed identically by each of two observers using a five-point scale; and very few assessments differed by more than one point.

However, this is only what we can consider attractive on a very general consensus — and legal policy is something that we want to make as specific as possible. So, what? Is it possible for us to create a concise list of “ugly” traits in which we could make applicable to law in order to offer protections for individuals meeting all of the pre-listed requirements of “ugly?” Of course, not. If we received a case that involved a female who claims to have been discriminated against when applying for employment at a local bank on the basis of a lack of “attractiveness,” are we to just look at a list and say, “Well, you do have a body fat percentage of 30%, your ass-to-boob ratio is way out of whack, you’re too short for your size, and your nose is too pointy. Congratulations! Your case can be filed in court!”? Whenever attractiveness is cut down to its core, every individual is going to find incongruities with one another on what it means to be truly “ugly.” And does anyone have any idea how hard it would be to actually take a case to court on the grounds that you were discriminated against based on your looks? Believe it or not, but it is very difficult to prove intentional discrimination…not to mention just showing that discrimination had occurred in the first place.

I’m afraid there is no easy answer on how to combat discrimination against individuals who surely do not deserve it, but here is how I see it: people need to stop looking at trying to stop discrimination through offering special legal rights to different minority groups. It doesn’t solve the problem; all it does it say, “Hey, you cannot be racist or we will file legal action against you,” as if it will fix racism, or sexism, or anything else in this country. The problem simply lies in how people think — and it’s backwards. If anything, it is an insult — telling someone they are in need of extra help because of their appearance, race, or gender. Stop talking about race; stop talking about gender; stop talking about how I look.

Now that I’m done with my rant, I’ll let you bask in the warmth of Morgan Freeman’s voice as he explains his thoughts on Black History Month:

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