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

“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!)

The Unjust and Incomprehensible Firing of Melissa Nelson

An Iowa court has decreed that a boss may fire a worker for no other reason than the fact that she is so sexy that she makes his wife jealous, and with good reason, since he finds her irresistibly attractive.


If the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling that dentist James Knight was within his legal rights to fire otherwise efficient and effective dental assistant Melissa Nelson because he couldn’t resist her innate womanly charms stands, and it will take the Supreme Court of the United States to reverse it, gender discrimination has just been given a green light by one of the highest courts in the land. Continue reading