Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hooters sued for not hiring men

An alleged rejected male job applicant for a food server position at a Corpus Christi, Texas, Hooters has filed a class action sex discrimination lawsuit against the restaurant chain. He claims that Hooters refuses to even consider men for food server positions. According to the lawsuit:

Hooters attempts to circumvent the law by referring to its waiters as “Hooters Girls.” Hooters contends that since its food servers are Hooters Girls, males may not be employed in that role. Hooters is incorrect, since, in the stores, Hooters Girls’ primary function is to serve food and drinks. A male or female can perform this function and, therefore, Hooters is not entitled to the defense of bona-fide occupational qualification.

Because it is discriminatory on its face to refuse to hire an entire gender, Hooters will certainly rely on the “bona fide occupational qualification defense.” A BFOQ is a defense to discrimination based on age, sex, religion, or national origin (but, importantly, not race discrimination). It permits discrimination where the protected class (such as sex) is reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise. To qualify as a BFOQ, a job qualification must relate to the essence, or to the central mission of the employer’s business. A classic example of a BFOQ is safety-based mandatory retirement ages for airline pilots.

This case will largely hinge on the perception of the real nature of Hooters’ product – does Hooters sell sex or wings? If it’s the former Hooters win, the latter the plaintiff wins. The reasonable view is that Hooters sell wings by using the sex appeal of its servers. If this view prevails, then the plaintiff is probably out of luck.

If I was representing Hooters, I would advise it to give serious consideration to offering the plaintiff a position under the same conditions as it hires all of its female food servers. He would have to wear the same uniform and show off the same cleavage. His acceptance would show his lack of qualification, and his refusal it would show his true motivation for filing suit, while also likely cutting off his economic damages.

[Hat tip: Courthouse News Service, via Above the Law]