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Is Discrimination Against the Uncool, “Ok”?

Recently the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, the trendy clothing retailer aimed at twenty somethings and younger, declared that he had no intention of designing plus sized clothesFlash Thompson because overweight teens were not part of the “cool” crowd.  In other words he doesn’t want un-cool kids, the overweight and unattractive according to Abercrombie, wearing his clothes thereby soiling his brand’s cool and sexy image.  While he has every right to design clothes for whomever he wants, he also applies the same principle to hiring.  Since he designs clothes for only cool, hip and sexy people then he also hires only cool, hip and sexy people to sell his clothes.  How is this possible?

I have written in detail about the many types of discrimination.  Just like Bubba Blue rattling off all the ways to cook shrimp in Forrest Gump I could easily with the same southern drawl ramble on about why people are rejected.  So many reasons now exist that essentially anyone is fair game.  Are you ethnic, old, female, religious, pregnant, overweight, unemployed, very attractive, short, bald, bearded, a smoker?  These are just a few reasons why you aren’t making the cut and even though some categories are protected by law you could certainly also fall into one of the others that aren’t.

Even today I’m still confused how some employers get away with discrimination while others get skewered by the EEOC.  I’m not a patron of Hooters but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen an obese waitress in their commercials.  Clearly they are discriminating against the plus sized crowd but no one cares as though we all, even the overweight, are accepting their sales gimmick.  Maybe profit is the overriding factor here.  “I may not be able to discriminate against you because you’re black but if you can’t sell my wings because you’re fat then, well, that’s a different story.”  Is this fair?  Does anyone actually care anymore?

A 2006 write up about the Abercrombie headquarters paints a picture of a corporate campus heavy on the cool kid culture and I doubt anyone not fitting that culture, despite their adequate skills, is getting a second job interview.  Is this fair?  Does anyone care as long as Abercrombie’s profits continue to climb which they are doing?

Would allowing unattractive and potentially un-cool looking kids to sell Abercrombie’s clothes hurt their image and sales?  Maybe.  Does the CEO have a case then to say that job candidates lacking a certain image cannot effectively handle the job duties given to them despite their skills?  I don’t know, does he?  Does this set a precedent to allow predominantly white companies to discriminate against skilled black candidates by suggesting that blacks would be less successful in selling to a white target audience?  Probably not but I can see many of them using this as an argument.

If we say that it is okay to discriminate against the un-cool because they would be less successful in selling to a particular target audience, then what prevents companies from applying the same principles to other protected groups?  If I am “White and Nerdy” as the Weird Al song goes, would it make sense for hip-hop mogul, Jay-Z, to hire me to sell his line of hip hop attire?  Of course not.  I don’t fit the brand’s image and I know this.  Likewise I probably wouldn’t even apply for the role in the first place.

Maybe in many instances the problem just goes away.  How many overweight women still apply to Hooters?  How many bald sales people try to sell Rogaine?  How many skinny women try to sell Lane Bryant’s line of plus sized clothing?  Many of us have learned that “long haired, hippy people need not apply” and just try to fit in elsewhere.  We don’t force ourselves into places we’re not wanted.

On May 13th clothing retailer Wet Seal agreed to pay over $5.5M to former black employees because they were discriminated against for not fitting the “white”, “blue eye”, “thin” and blond appearance the clothing line desired.  Back in 2004 Abercrombie paid $40M to African Americans for committing the same offenses.  Fairness it would seem does override profit.  In some cases at least.  Despite this the discrimination continues.  According to a survey of NY retailers, whites earned $.80 more per hour than black workers in the same position and minorities were more likely to have their hours reduced.

If even the protected classes are getting slammed what hope exists for the “un-cool”?  You can almost picture “Flash Thompson”, the “Heathers”, “Biff” and that mean blond guy from Karate Kid sitting in a glass office laughing over their hiring policies.  As an un-cool worker meanders buy they steal his Taco Bell money and pull his underwear over his head.  In the case of Abercrombie what is most uncool and unattractive is their attitude and I hope that many people will echo ignorant Biff’s words and say, “Why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here!”

About The Author

Ryder Cullison

Ryder has more than 10 years of experience working with retained search clients as a search professional. As a pioneer of Interview4 he has great knowledge of video interviewing. He writes about all things hiring and looks forward to engaging with his audience on topics of leadership, recruiting, candidate screening, and employee satisfaction. Follow him on Twitter: @hireintelligent and @cullison1

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