Lawful Discrimination

Relax. This is not a posting about FORMER Jet Blue  Flight Attendant Steven Slater.  It’s actually about the cop!

No one has more respect for law enforcement professionals than I have.  I am certain that he is an excellent officer, a good spouse, father, son, etc., etc., etc.  He is probably well respected by colleagues and all who know him.  But he is NOT a role model for someone looking for  a job.

A number of years ago I was in Barnes and Noble.  As I approached the Customer Service desk I heard a commotion.  There was a young woman, probably no more than 17 or 18, arguing with the manager.   She was yelling at him, “You’re discriminating against me!  You won’t even give me a job application.”

The manager assured her that he was not discriminating against her, but to no avail.  I then decided to chime in.  I looked her straight in the eye and, after introducing myself said, “You’re right.  He is discriminating against you.”  I then paused to see the manager’s face go white as a ghost and added, “And he’s perfectly within his rights.”

As the color returned to the manager’s face I asked the would-be employee why she wanted to work at B&N.  She said, “I love books.”  I then asked her if she had ever been in a book store before.  She got a bit angry and sarcastically said, “Yes!”  I then asked her if she had ever noticed the employees.  “Of course!”  “Did you ever see one who looked like you?”

Then it began to sink in.  “Look,” I told her.  “A business owner has the right to determine his corporate image.  Have you ever seen a receptionist at a dentist’s office with bad teeth?  An obese person working at a health club?  Or someone with tattoos from her fingers up her arms, and from her neck down?  Or someone with piercings everywhere conceivable on her face and in her mouth?”

Reluctantly she said, “No.”  I told her that she was not being discriminated against because she was white, Christian, female, or because of her age.  She was being discriminated against because the manager is a discriminating person.  “He knows what corporate image he wants and you don’t meet the minimum standards or qualifications.  You made a decision to look the way you look, now you have to live with the ramifications.”

She then asked me where she could get a job.  I suggested tattoo parlors and piercing establishments.  I then told her that I honestly had never seen anyone who looks like her working anywhere that I go.

Before she left, practically in tears, she asked what she should do.  I suggested removing all of the piercings (including the tongue!), hope that the wounds heal quickly, and go to a physician to see about have the tattoos removed, at least those that will be visible on the job.

As she departed the manager told me that when I had said that he was discriminating against her he had had every intention of throwing me out – literally!  He then smiled and revealed his own tattoo carefully hidden under his shirt sleeve.

The lesson: Appearance counts.  You have to look like you belong when you go for a job interview.  If you don’t believe me look at the photo again.  What’s the first thing you noticed?  The prisoner?  The officer carefully fastening his seat belt?  Wearing his hat even though he’s in a van?  Or the incongruity of a police officer with tattoos up and down his arms?  What do you want people to notice about you, your professionalism or your appearance?  Most employers, maybe all employers, want the former.  You should never want the latter!