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Interview With Jack Myers, Cari Dominguez

Aired July 14, 2003 - 19:30   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, remember when you were in high school and the most attractive people got all the dates? Well, it may be high school all over again if you're looking for a retail sales job. Apparently many image-conscious chains openly acknowledge that they're looking for attractive people to move merchandise at their stores.
But that policy has raised a troubling question. Where does marketing end and bias begin?

Jack Myers is a former marketing consultant and editor of "The Jack Myers Report." He joins us in New York. And Cari Dominguez chairs the Equal Opportunity Commission in Washington. We appreciate both of you joining us.

Jack, let me start off with you. You believe companies have the right to place employees in public positions based on looks, is that true?

JACK MYERS, EDITOR, "JACK MYERS REPORT": Well, I think this is another instance of lawyers and regulators run amok. It is taking the well-intentioned affirmative action laws and really making a sham out of them.

It is appropriate to apply affirmative action to a total corporation, a complete company, but taking individual departments of that company and applying those same affirmative action rules is really trying to take square pegs and fitting it into round holes in the name of equality. It just doesn't work. And I think it is inappropriate in...

COOPER: Cari -- Cari...

MYERS: ... this case.

COOPER: ... let me ask you about that. I mean, don't businesses have the right to put whoever they want on the sales floor?

CARI DOMINGUEZ, EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION: Well, I think employers have broad latitudes in making their employment decisions. When it starts getting into a slippery slope is when they -- there are certain code words, you know, youthful, people that are hip or cool, and that operates to exclude individuals who are equally as qualified because of their age or because they happen to have...

COOPER: Well, Cari, let me ask you... DOMINGUEZ: ... a disability.

COOPER: ... I mean, if a company comes forward and says, Look, we want beautiful people on our sales floor selling our beautiful products, technically that's not illegal, as long as their idea of beauty doesn't exclude people who are disabled, people of different ethnicities, and various genders, is that right?

DOMINGUEZ: That is absolutely right, Anderson. As long as whatever their criteria they use does not exclude individuals because of their race, color, national origin. Where we really run into problems, and we've seen it time and time again in the cases that come to the commission, is when you have individuals who say, Well, customer preference is such that we have to hire a certain type of individual.

And when you put customer preference over the dictates of our nation's values and the laws, that's when you run afoul, because, again...


DOMINGUEZ: ... that was the whole issue with race discrimination, issue with women on the job, because of customer preference. So that's not an acceptable standard by which we...

COOPER: Jack, I mean...


COOPER: ... what about that? I mean...

MYERS: Well, I think if you take...


MYERS: ... customer preference, then -- and say that's not a fair standard, then by that standard, you'd have to put male sales clerks on the floor at Victoria's Secret, or you'd have to have Caucasian waiters and waitresses at Chinese restaurants. In a record store, where you go in and it's a customer preference to have someone young and knowledgeable about CDs and DVDs, does that mean we have to have senior citizens employed who may know nothing about the music?

I think we have to look...

COOPER: Well, is it, but Jack...

MYERS: ... at their qualifications.

COOPER: ... I mean, is it fair if you walk into a clothing store, and, you know, they want to project an all-American image and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there's, you know, they basically won't employ anyone who is disabled they won't employ anyone who is not the ethnic group that they want. I mean, is that fair? MYERS: The comparison, again, would be if you go into Home Depot, you want to find people who are knowledgeable about the -- about home furnishings. These are...

COOPER: Right, but just...

MYERS: ... walking billboards.

COOPER: ... but just, but just because someone is hot, Jack, doesn't mean...

MYERS: Well, they're walking billboards.


COOPER: ... doesn't mean they're knowledgeable about selling retail.

MYERS: They're advertising representatives. They're walking billboards. When you have a model on a runway, you want that model to be attractive and represent the brand appropriately. You want them to wear your clothing when you walk into Abercrombie and Fitch. They want them to wear young -- they want them to look like the clothing is supposed to look.

And these are billboards, these are advertising, human advertisements for the clothing themselves. And I think they have the right within their store to make those decisions with that one department, not for the total organization.

COOPER: Cari, you, final word.

DOMINGUEZ: Well, I just think that if we look at the Internet and people -- customers are very smart, they're looking for good products, for good values, and they're looking for the expertise that the individuals bring when they try to make the sales transactions. It's not so much how they look like, it's really what the knowledge and the expertise that they bring.

So I think, again, it's all the qualifications. So I'm all for employers trying to make the best presence and the best indication of what would sell, but at the same time, making sure that they don't violate the laws of the land.

COOPER: Well, I got to say, I've been in plenty of stores where they're really hot but they don't know anything about the product they're selling. But no one seems to mind, because they're just so pretty. I don't know. It is an odd situation to me.

But Cari Dominguez, appreciate you joining us. And Jack Myers, thanks very much, it was interesting.

DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.

MYERS: Good to be here.


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