NBC Weighs In Against Businesses
Network complains that companies discriminate based on appearance.
NBCs Today attacked businesses in general for discrimination
not because of their treatment of minorities, but because they
werent fair to less attractive people. The July 25 story focused on
a woman named Jennifer Portnick, who had been denied a fitness
franchise because she was overweight. Policy stated instructors
have to look fit and at 240 pounds, Portnick didn't fit the bill,
explained reporter Michael Okwu.
NBC, like the other broadcast networks, has painted obesity as a nationwide crisis. But when it came to that problem impacting the workplace, NBC warned against judging a book by its cover. The reporter failed to include any comment from a representative of the fitness company that didnt want a 240-pound franchisee as its spokesperson. And that was just the appetizer.
Dr. Gordon Patzer, dean of the College of Business Administration
at Roosevelt University and an expert in the field of appearance
in the workplace. Patzer admitted, People tend to enjoy or like
being around people better who are higher in physical
attractiveness. Neither Patzer nor Okwu took the natural step and
said that might explain why a fitness company would want athletic
or fit people as representatives.
Patzer went on to
say that individuals of higher physical attractiveness may in
fact be more productive because they have higher levels of, more
self-esteem, have built better social networks. That didnt stop
Okwu and host Al Roker from referring to the choice as
discrimination, instead of making the point that employers have a
right to choose employees based on who would be the most valuable
to the company.
The report went on
to quote Portnick complaining about decisions being made on
something not relevant to job performance. NBC didnt bother to
interview potential customers as to whether they thought a
240-pound fitness instructor would impact their purchasing
decisions or whether that was relevant.
The network used the story to launch into discussions about the workplace, but Portnick was not applying for a job, she was making a business deal as a franchisee. According to the International Franchise Association, the franchisee pays a royalty and often an initial fee for the right to do business under the franchisor's name and system. Portnick didnt want to operate under that system so she sued.
Roker spoke with
Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, who warned that it was
really illegal to hire people in ways other than based on a
bona fide occupational qualification. Wolf cited models as an
example of who would fall into this category, but the idea of a
240-pound fitness instructor never seemed inappropriate to her.
Not only did Wolf
argue that Weight is a factor of socio-economic class, but she
also claimed even grooming is a function of health. Very often
people who are mentally healthy, reach out to other people, good
self-esteem, groom themselves better and convey a sense of I'm an
attractive person. Roker did not ask if that meant employers had
to hire poorly groomed applicants simply out of fear that they
might be sued by unhealthy candidates.