Hooters Battle (Con): "Follow the Law"
April 26, 2000
Hooters restaurants have been serving up beer and wings with busty babes for more than a decade. The patrons are predominately male and chances are good they aren't there just for a snack. The sexually provocative atmosphere draws them. It's made the restaurant a success but now that success is threatened by an action brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That agency contends the restaurant chain practices discrimination in hiring only women. If the EEOC is successful, Hooters will have to hire men for 40 percent of the jobs now held by women; they will have to provide a $22 million settlement to pay claims of men who were never hired and will have to create a fund to enhance the skills and employment opportunities of Hooter Guys. Not only that, but Hooters will have to run ads in papers - large ads - inviting men to file a claim against them. Hooters maintains it is within the law and is protesting that the EEOC is abusing its power with such a suit. Catherine Cole says Hooters should "follow the law." I recall the billboards when Hooters first started. I remember thinking, "Aren't they afraid someone will take that the wrong way?" Of course now I realize how naive I was. Their trademark might be a cute little owl with big eyes, but the hooters they mean are exactly those the trademark was designed to both evoke and still deny, as the case might require. Now the fat is in the fire concerning the hiring practices of the 172 restaurant chain. The U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claims the chain's practice of hiring only females to work as servers, hosts and bartenders violates the law. The restaurant claims the government is interfering and should it succeed in efforts to force the chain to hire Hooter guys, the restaurant would lose its unique corner of the market and eventually go out of business. The restaurant makes a strong case against government interference. The recent government shut-down prevented the EEOC from even commenting on the Hooter Girls who appeared in Washington to plead their case in the court of public opinion. The fact that the EEOC is so far behind in other cases does make one wonder why Hooters' hiring practices are so important to this agency. And, frankly, the sanctions the EEOC is threatening seem outrageous. That said, Hooters still needs to toe the equal opportunity line. Why? Because the jobs in question are food service jobs, not sex-related positions such as strippers or health club locker room attendants. The restaurant has suggested that since the law allows for gender discrimination in such jobs, their hiring practice is covered. One does not need "hooters" to serve food or beer -- except at Hooters -- which is why they are in violation of the law. It does not seem so important, in the over all scheme of things, if Hooters hires only women. I doubt our culture will crumble or our moral fiber change much either way. However, equal opportunity for men and women is concept worth preserving. It was not so long ago that women were turned away in droves from fields open only to men. This discrimination preserved women's status as second-class citizens and, to this day, its effects can still be seen in the statistics of working women's salaries and job titles. Do we really want to go back to the days when irrelevant anatomical parts were defined as necessary to employment for anyone? So here we have a legitimate business with a legitimate cause for concern. Hooters has built a successful business on a concept that proved highly popular. Everyone knows sex sells. If it is prevented from continuing as it has, the restaurant maintains, those hungry, horny customers won't frequent the place as much. How to preserve the business and still stay within the law? The EEOC should offer the following compromise: It will stop all action, past and present, against Hooters if Hooters simply drops its "female only" hiring practice. Let's face it. Exactly how many guys want to be Hooter Guys anyway? The suit mentions four. Hire 'em. Give 'em a comparable uniform. Let 'em work. Their tips will not keep up with the Hooter Girls. That's not against the law. They will probably go somewhere else eventually. There are plenty of jobs where men still predominate but are open to women. Who is to say Hooters would not still remain predominately female? Those who rail against government interference like to talk about "letting the market decide." Let the restaurant-going market decide. If it decides against Hooters because it hires men, those same diners must then choose from among other restaurants which also must hire both sexes. Just because an illegal practice makes for better business doesn't mean it should be allowed. And hiring only women for food service jobs is illegal. Let's get real. Hooters must stop ignoring the law and do business as other restaurants do. And the EEOC should give it every reasonable opportunity to do so without sanctions or quotas.