NBC Weighs In Against Businesses

NBC Weighs In Against Businesses
Network complains that companies discriminate based on appearance.

By Dan Gainor
July 26, 2005

     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.

    Okwu interviewed 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.