If You Like Hot Employees, You May Get Burned: Discrimination Concerns in Hiring Only Attractive People
There is a popular reality show called Vanderpump Rules that follows a group of aspiring actors and models who work in a restaurant in West Hollywood. Every single one of them is beautiful, as actors and models typically are. They are the ideal fit for the carefully curated aesthetic of the Sexy Unique Restaurant and Lounge (SUR). But while having an attractive staff may just be a nice perk of doing business in LA, for employers outside of the city of dreams, it raises a legitimate question: Is it legal to hire only attractive people? The answer is: It depends on what you find attractive.
It is not per se illegal for an employer to make a hiring decision based on a person's looks. The law protects only certain classes from employment discrimination and "unattractiveness" isn’t one of them. Not to mention that there’d be no real way to legislate and enforce such a protection, because attractiveness is entirely subjective. The issue, is that the physical qualities used to gauge looks are often the product of a person’s race, color or sex, which are all protected classes under Title VII.
For example, if an employer only wants employees with blonde hair and blue eyes, absent a bona fide occupation qualification, they are discriminating against races of people that don’t typically possess those qualities. Abercrombie learned this lesson the hard way. The company's efforts to have employees who looked like All-American collegiate frat boys left it on the hook for $50 million for discriminating against Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans and women. (Gonzalez v. Abercrombie & Fitch).
Ultimately, whether it’s legal to hire only attractive people will depend upon the employer’s subjective view of what’s attractive. If an employer hires people based on certain physical features, they are more likely to face a discrimination suit than those who hire based on general professional appearance. Keep in mind when making employment decisions that discrimination laws were designed to protect people with characteristics that they either couldn’t, or shouldn’t be expected to change simply to be employed. When interviewing an applicant, focus on their qualifications and ability to perform the job versus how you think they would look while doing it.