“Lookism” And The Plight of the Borgata Babes

"Uh...Desiree? We need to talk..."

“Uh…Desiree? We need to talk…”

Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa calls its waitresses the “Borgata Babes,” and makes its hiring decisions accordingly. The cocktail waitresses’ job description requires part fashion model, part beverage server, part hostess, and entirely eye candy for the male of the species.  When the casino  hires a new BB, it weighs her. If her poundage increases by more than 7 percent, the casino reserves the right to suspend her until she’s back in flirting trim.

Anyone could see this lawsuit coming a mile away, and sure enough, twenty-two newly-portly babes lost a lawsuit against the casino in which they claimed sexual discrimination. (There are no male equivalents to the Borgata Babes, just the usual ugly, flabby male waiters and bartenders.) New Jersey judge Nelson Johnson ruled last week that the Babes are paid sex objects, and that the Borgata’s requirements were legal because the women were aware of them and accepted them as a condition of their employment. Johnson wrote, “Plaintiffs cannot shed the label ‘babe’; they embraced it when they went to work for the Borgata.”

Slate, in writing about the case, sees the ruling as an endorsement of weight discrimination that could spread like the flu, putting corpulent women and men on the breadlines. ” Says Slate:

[T]he ruling also raises questions about the role of babes in workplaces across the country. It’s conventional wisdom that male gamblers will keep pulling away at the slots as long as they’re lubricated by strong drinks served up by babely women. But wouldn’t some female patrons prefer to be served be hunky pieces of man candy? And couldn’t most workplaces argue that its jobs are better performed by babes, regardless of the venue? Is it OK to require that strippers be babes? Casino waitresses? How about investment bankers?”

Now there’s a slippery slope argument if I ever saw one. While it is true that physical attractiveness can be an employment asset in virtually any job—note #2 on fired TV reporter Shea Allen’s “confessions”— there are some jobs for which it is the primary, or at least a substantial and thus legitimate requirement. Strippers, of course. Fashion models. Cheerleaders. Actresses. Personal trainers. Fox newsreaders. Hooters girls, and pretty obviously, Borgata Babes. To say that a business can’t make a decision to have fantasy sex objects as part of its appeal is an excessive use of political correctness grafted to state power. Essentially, the suing Babes are arguing that they can pull a bait and switch—use their well-toned beauty to get hired, agree to maintain the high standard of visual perfection that they presented to their employer, then go to pot and sue if their employer objects. Beauty is an asset in the workplace and a tangible one: the pressure on the culture to behave as if that asset doesn’t exist (the pejorative labeling of a preference for the lovely over the hideous as “lookism” is the weapon of choice) and to prohibit employers from ever hiring on that basis in jobs where it is a substantial and relevant qualification is as unfair to the fit and comely as requiring an investment banker to look like Kate Upton.

Since the law will require, and should require, clear standards, there will need to be a legislative determination of what kind of jobs for men or women can justify termination when their occupants become unsightly. The law should also, however, permit a job applicant’s appearance to provide a legitimate and legal edge when all other qualifications are equal even when the job itself does not have any beauty or fitness requirements. I do not deny that this is an ethical and emotional minefield, implicating age and race bias, and that there are some contentious battles to be fought. I do deny that the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is the place to fight one.

One place where the appearance discrimination battle does need to be fought is Iowa, where the case I wrote about earlier, in which a hen-pecked dentist sought to fire his attractive and competent assistant because he found her “irresistible” and his wife was jealous, had the same ridiculous resolution last week. Yet another Iowa court ruled that her impeccable appearance was a legal justification to can her. That’s as outrageous as firing a dental assistant because she’s put on a few pounds, but being a “babe”—or not—should be irrelevant to one’s skill in flossing teeth.

It does give some hope to the ex-casino waitresses. I hear they are hiring unsexy dental assistants in Iowa.


Facts: Time

Sources: Slate, UPI

Graphic: YouTube (Yikes!)

35 thoughts on ““Lookism” And The Plight of the Borgata Babes

  1. I think your analysis is correct re the Borgata Babes, Jack, but I doubt correct analysis will prevail. I bet within five years, the Hooters et al. of the world will no longer be able to hire babes. See, eg. what happened with airline stewardesses. These jobs will become unionized and there will be a relentless wave of litigation that will ultimately end in physical appearance being ruled out by either judges or the Department of Labor as a criterion in hiring and retaining employees of any sort.

  2. Hmm…

    I agree with your analysis but think you’re swinging for the wrong fence. I guess I need to take the time to read the judge’s ruling, which I will do now. I guess I don’t know how a business can hire both Men and Women for the same job but only have beauty standards for Women. If it’s the same job, the same standards should apply. Even if the standards are legal for the women to be held up to (which I agree with) I think their complaint is less about themselves and more about making sure the Men are held to the same standard.

    But – this is an uninformed comment until I do the homework.

    • By definition, they aren’t the same jobs. If a woman’s job description includes “eye candy” and a man’s does not, that is a measure marketing decsiions about a marketplace. If my research shows that my market is 70% male, that attractive casino employees contribute to their decisions to come, that the female market is 30% and they don’t care that much what the male waiters look like, then the job descriptions and requirements are legitimately different. Right? The Casino could hire Borgata Himbos, but surely you don’t think they have to? I mean, Shep Smith is cute enough, but still…

      • Not sure how different a cocktail waitress is from an airline steward. And don’t say stewards and stewardesses are primarily safety personel who also serve drinks. They used to be marketing tools for U.S. airlines and still are for Arab and Asian airlines whose countries don’t have workplace discrimination concerns, never mind rules.

        If everybody has a right to marry, why shouldn’t everyone have a right to serve cocktails? Regardless of how they look?

        • As you can see, I’m fairly sure your logic and this judge’s logic and ruling will not carry the day. Being ‘eye candy’ will not survive as a viable job description. It didn’t in the airline industry and it won’t in the cocktail industry.

          And don’t strip joints get around this sort of thing when ‘hiring’ dancers (and firing them, presumably) by calling them “independent contractors?” Hah.

          • I think you’re wrong. And I fly a lot—airplane attendants hardly serve anything any more. The days of “Fly Me!” are over. Nobody will pick a flight because it has cute stewardesses, so they perceived eye-candy aspect of the job is minimal. I agree with the age discrimination application to flight attendants.

            • Been on Korean Air Lines or Emirates lately? Or seen any of their ads? Or their “stews?” I bet tons of international business travellers pick those airlines over U.S. carriers for this very reason.

              Fly me is over in the U.S. and has been for decades, but not many other places in the world have joined in.

              • I bet you’re wrong. Air travel is the one weird area where price and schedule, not comfort, service or “eye candy’ drives almost all purchases. I fly United and American because I have to. They could have werewolves serving the louse soft drinks, and I’d still have no choice.

                • So why all the gorgeous, young cabin workers on non-US airlines. It must be working for somebody. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother.

                  • It may be that foreign airlines have a market that is more engaged by such things, or that you just naturally think foreign women are attractive….or that there are no laws in those countries stopping male executives from hiring based on their own hormonal urges.

                    • Exactly. It’s not prohibited in many foreign countries. And remember, some people fly first class. Do they care about cost and schedule? Heck no. They’re flying first class.

                      You and I wouldn’t fly first class even if we could afford to. There are plenty of high hormone and income flyers out there. You’re just not one of them.

        • There’s a difference between jobs and marriage.

          “Right to a job” is not the same as “right to marry”, quite honestly because “right to a job” does not exist.

          Lets dispel this myth that industries exist to employ people. They do not. Industries exist because society has generated a need/want that creates value. That valued need/want in turn generates individuals who wish to provide those needs and wants and they may employ like minded service providers. No one has a “right” to those jobs. Whoever the employer feels is best qualified. Qualifications aren’t just mental/skills based.

          If a particular role provides a meaningful service, and that role also could secure noticeably more demand if the worker were attractive, the company has every right to hire and retain attractive people. Because if that attractive person draws more customers, then ultimately the company can increase the amount of service provided by hiring more staff and expanding the company.

          Why? Because industry exists for one reason: to provide services that are valued by consumers. Industry does not exist to provide jobs. Job provision is the happy *side effect* of demand.

          • I hear ya, but in the current US with advocates on every corner, I’m just not sure “eye candy” is going to survive as a job description. And how can the people on this blog who are so enlightened and ethical about so many things (not kidding) be such troglodites on respecting women? It’s like Amsterdam and the Netherland. How do a town, a country and a people that consider themselves so smugly progressive and enlightened still merrily generate huge tourist dollars from legalized prostitution? Just kind of puzzling. Any of “the girls” out there care to chime in?

          • Do you think anyone will advance the “anti-looks-ist” argument that the discriminatory hiring practices which favor hiring of babes is a violation of equal protection in terms of unequal employment opportunity?

            • Sure they will. And saying looks can’t be a legitimate basis for hiring is like saying superior intelligence or charm can’t be either. It’s “unfair” that while we have equal rights, we don’t have equal assets and qualities. Increasing numbers of people believe that, or at least argue it when it doesn’t apply to them.

              • But looks are a condition, not an innate ability or a learned skill. So the argument will go. Again, it’s analogous to the marriage equality argument. “I don’t look like Barbie but I should still have a right to work in a cocktail lounge. I didn’t choose to look this way” is, at least to my pea brain, analogous to “I like other guys but I still have a right to get married. I didn’t choose to be this way.”

                • Jobs are not a right. Employment is not a right. It is not analogous.

                  All of your premises are accurate except for that one, and that is where your analogy falls apart.

                  • Aside from trying to make an analogy between marriage and employment, though, the OPPORTUNITY for a job is arguably a right, such that certain eligibility criteria for a particular job could violate equal protection. I think that might be the same or similar rats Other Bill and I are smelling.

                    • What? The opportunity for a job is results wholly from the market creating the need for a job. You have every right to TRY for a job (even if you are colossally unqualified for the job), but you have no right to get the job (Pursuit of happiness vs achieving happiness). That job will have inherent requirements for the successful execution of the tasks associated with that job.

                      Some people will meet those requirements, some will not. Progressives may argue that is unfair. But that cannot be changed without making a system so onerous and impossible to function, and ultimately ruining it for everybody in an attempt to make it perfectly ‘fair’ for everybody.

                    • Tex, I don’t think you are misunderstanding me. I am all but certain that you and I think much the same about “progressive” thinking. That thinking is what I am wondering and asking about (not defending): Whether there is reason to suspect there is (and, is there reasonable expectation that courts will find) a rational basis for concluding that certain jobs’ inherent requirements are inherently unjust and unfair, such that the requirements illegally deprive persons of equal opportunity and equal protection.

                    • Ah, I see, you’re sort of devil’s advocating it.

                      Well, let’s just wait until the leftists and/or progressives formulate their replies. They really haven’t hopped onto this post yet, other than a quick line or two.

  3. Sure, in some cases it’s obvious- if you sign on to be a “babe” then maintaining the babeosity is part and parcel of the job and it doesn’t make sense to try and have it otherwise. The sneaky flip side, though, was experienced by a friend of mine- she worked on the sales floor at a mall-based clothier that shall remain nameless (not least because I don’t remember which one it was, specifically).

    They dropped her to a stockroom job with lower pay when she got pregnant- because as per their job descriptions they don’t have “salespeople,” they have “models,” and models (in our state, at least) are allowed to be fired or moved for not having model looks.

    Granted, it was spelled out as such in the contract, and it wasn’t exactly a huge surprise, but it’s still a bit underhanded. One might argue that you don’t want to buy clothes from a schlubby ill-dressed slob, but selling overpriced jeans hardly requires one to be a model…

Leave a Reply to Jack Marshall Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.