The Tangled Ethics Of Men, Women, Sexual Harassment,Sexual Discrimination, Romance, Common Sense, And “Vive La différence!”

Mike Pence would not have a business dinner with Debrahlee Lorenzana. What’s wrong with him?

Many years ago I did a sexual harassment seminar for a New York law firm. Afterwards, the partner responsible for handling the firm’s EEOC and workplace matters told me that my ethics-based approach to the topic wasn’t sufficiently rigorous, since he believed that innocent contact between employees in the firm could spawn lawsuits. “I refuse to travel with female associates,” he told me. “I can’t be sure what they will think is harassment.”

“Wait,” I asked. “So because you’re afraid of being accused unjustly of sexual harassment, you engage in sexual discrimination?”

He sputtered something and left to arrange his sock drawer.

I think of this conversation often. I thought of it when Vice-President Mike Pence was reported as saying in 2002  that he never had a meal with a woman who was not his wife, and was promptly savaged for it by feminists and the news media. Because the new rules and practices of the workplace have developed amid contradictions and rigid doctrine rather than with attention to whether they were workable or not, Pence and that hypocritical lawyer years ago are both victims and victimizers. It is often impossible to know what ethical workplace conduct is.

The New York Times was happy to bash Pence for his candor as part of a requirement of membership in “the resistance,” but then, as is often the case for the schizoid paper, later competently and objectively examined the issue away from politics. A Morning Consult poll conducted for the paper  found that there is widespread fear of one-on-one situations, male-female interactions in the workplace.  About 25% think private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate. Almost 2/3  say it is prudent to be especially wary and sensitive around members of the opposite sex at work. A majority of women, and nearly half of men, say it’s unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: “Fixing” “Elf Ears”

ears

6-year-old Gage Berger was being bullied by his first grade classmates because he had protruding ears, and was often derided as “Elf  Ears.” His Salt Lake City parents decided to address the problem here and now, before, they say, his self-esteem (I almost wrote elf-esteem…) was  permanently damaged, so they had his ears de-elfed to look like everyone else’s.

Now he’s bullying other funny-looking kids.

Kidding.

I hope.

But seriously, folks, the story has aroused a controversy over societal and medical ethics. Did the parents choose plastic surgery too early and for the wrong reasons? Is that how we want society to be, where bullies and critics can pressure individuals to conform to a narrow standard of acceptible appearance? Doesn’t this give them power? Does it not encourage bullying? Is a first-grader old enough to meaningfully weigh these issues? Isn’t this a choice he should make, when he’s old enough to make it?

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today is…

Was it ethical to clip Gary’s ears?

Continue reading

Ethics Alarms Update: The Borgata Babes

Borgata Babes

Twenty-one female servers at Atlantic City’s Borgata Casino sued their employer,  claiming that they were objectified, discriminated against and demeaned by being forced to maintain slim and fit figures  as “Borgata Babes.” I wrote about this case in 2013, saying,

“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….”

Now a state appellate court  has ruled that the casino can impose appearance requirements as long as it does so fairly and equally.

Score a victory for the freedom to acknowledge that beauty can be a legitimate job qualification, and against ludicrous political correctness.

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Pointer: Res Ipsa Loquitur

Once Again, We Are Reminded That Beauty Is Only Skin Deep. Do ESPN Viewers Care? Should They?

Let me tell you, it's quite a shock when Britt's head spins around and that forked tongue starts flecking...

Let me tell you, it’s quite a shock when Britt’s head spins around and that forked tongue starts flecking…

Anyone who spends much time watching TV knows that “lookism” is the way of the world in the broadcast news business. From Nora O’Donnell on ABC to Robin Meade on HLN to Erin Andrews and the bevy of Fox blondes, it is obvious that if you are female, talent as a reporter won’t get you as far as some beauty contest creds. Plain, even conventionally pretty women are  at a great competitive disadvantage in this field.

One of the more blatant beneficiaries of this bias, ESPN’s Brit McHenry, has just been outed on the web as an ugly human being in a flashy disguise. Her car was towed, and a camera caught the reporter taking out her frustration on the poor clerk who was tasked with collecting her fee.

“I’m in the news, sweetheart, I will fucking sue this place,” McHenry says as the video opens.“Yep, that’s all you care about, is just taking people’s money,” she continues. “With no education, no skillset, just wanted to clarify that. … Do you feel good about your job? So I could be a college dropout and do the same thing? Why, cause I have a brain and you don’t?…Maybe if I was missing some teeth they would hire me, huh? ‘Cause they look so stunning … ‘Cause I’m on television and you’re in a fucking trailer, honey.”

“Lose some weight, baby girl,” she taunted as she left.

Yecchh. Continue reading

Just In Time For Christmas, Here Are All The Bad Arguments And Rationalizations Against Tipping So You Can Feel Self-Righteous About Being A Scrooge

See? The rest of the world knows how to deal with you sexist, racist, aristocratic poverty perpetuating, self-esteem destroying bastards!

See? The rest of the world knows how to deal with you sexist, racist, aristocratic poverty perpetuating, self-esteem destroying bastards!

Vox has published an entertaining screed against tipping, massing all the contradictory, facile rationalizations and faulty arguments against demonstrating one’s gratitude when someone serves you well. This is Vox, remember—Ezra Klein’s uber-progressive website with an agenda. Think about what the alternative to tipping is, and where the critics of tipping are going with these claims. Hint 1: It has nothing to do with democracy or individualism. Hint 2: The piece argues that tipping is classist, racist, sexist, “lookist”…the works.

The full illogical, ethically confused character of this junk has to be read to be fully appreciated, but here is a quick overview:

1. Hoary old quotes. There are these, for example:

English author Lynne Truss on visiting New York: “In this great financial capital … tips are not niceties: give a ‘thank you’ that isn’t green and foldable and you are actively starving someone’s children.” No, Lynne, you’re being cheap, that’s all.

The Village Voice’s Foster Kamer: “It reinforces an economically and socially dangerous status quo, while buttressing a functional aristocracy.”   Ah. You see, if lower paid service professions are treated like robots and underpaid, they will rise up and overturn this monstrosity called capitalism.

 Michael Lewis: “I feel we are creeping slowly toward a kind of baksheesh economy in which everyone expects to be showered with coins simply for doing what they’ve already been paid to do.” Who is being “showered with coins?”

2. “Tipping lets employers off the hook.” Translation: It gets in the way of the progressive “living wage” campaign. Mandatory salary levels drive businesses out of business and reduce jobs. Want to see all restaurants go to the iPad, self-ordering, system running rampant at airport restaurants—and no, I don’t tip a runner who just carried my food to the table—by all means, force restaurants to pay “a living wage.”

3.  “Tipping is undemocratic.” This is the George Orwell, “Peace is War” argument. The government should stop me from giving my money to whoever I want in the name of democracy. Continue reading

Ethics, Fish, “The Twilight Zone” and Renee Zellweger’s New Face

Rene 1

Reene Zellweger, the squinty-eyed, chipmunk-cheeked actress who achieved fame in such films as “Jerry Maguire” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” emerged from a period of relative seclusion this week looking like someone else entirely. The consensus was that the 45-year-old had undergone radical cosmetic surgery—not the face destroying kind that actresses like Meg Ryan or Priscilla Presley inflicted on themselves, but the “I don’t care if my mother won’t recognize me, at least I don’t look old” kind. When an actor or an actress does this, since their faces are their trademarks, it is bound to make an impression, and it has.

It is a tragic spectacle illustrating the degree to which American culture elevates looks above accomplishments, individuality, integrity and character, especially for women. Zellweger, whom I foolishly assumed was immune to this sickness since she was so unconventional looking, is obviously a victim, but now she is part of a cultural contagion. A fish doesn’t know that it is in water, and culture is like that water, completely constraining our attitudes, culture and choices without our knowledge or control. When celebrities, who have influence far beyond what their wisdom, virtues and value should rightfully support, and who are seen as being experts in the matter of appearance, send the message to the young and contemporaries that even the forfeiture of one’s identity is a fair price to pay to avoid the signs of natural aging, that pollutes our water.

And poisons the other fish. Continue reading

“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.

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Facts: Time

Sources: Slate, UPI

Graphic: YouTube (Yikes!)