In Wilson v. Southwest Airlines Company case, a male sued the airline after he was not hired as a flight attendant, because he was male. Southwest argued that allowing only females to be flight attendants was a BFOQ. The airline claimed that maintenance of its female-only hiring policy is crucial to be financially successful. Bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) is legalized discrimination, and available only on rare occasions, when the employer is able to prove that the ground for choosing one group over another goes to the essence of what employer is in business to do.
BFOQ test include two steps: (1) does the job require that the employee be of the one gender only, (2) is that requirement reasonably necessary to the “essence” of the employer business. In Southwest’s case, primary marketing goal of the company was to maintain “sexy” image of their airline by hiring attractive females and dressing them in high boots and hot-pants. It really has nothing to do with the primary function of the business – safely transferring passengers. So, answering question one – no, flight attendant job is not require to be female only.
There is no difference among who will check luggage, serve drinks or assist passengers during the flight. Southwest failed to prove that this particular job must be done by females only. Secondly, hiring females were convenient for Southwest, but not necessary. The company was pursuing a goal of making money, but BFOQ focuses on services provided, functions and job tasks, not business goal. Personally, I don’t think the standards for BFOQ are too strict; actually, I think it should be more of them.
A lot of companies concentrate too much on their marketing, and forget about Title VII, which I think one of the major achievements of the United States. Imagine, if BFOQ was easy to get, employers can do whatever they want and they will find a way to twist the law. When I was thinking about this example, I remembered the movie “North Country”- and how bad the discrimination was against women. So, strict rules keep companies in check and prevent any discrimination grounds.
The following option can be considered, in a case of the public liking the employer’s marketing – strategy change. The company could bring at least small amount of attractive male in advertizing. Travelers are not male only; females are a big part of them. Moreover, a gay population keeps growing, and for future marketing should be considered. The commercial success of a company is the most important goal for any business, and I think the court should consider BFOQ on a case to case basis.
I stressed the term “from case to case” on purpose, because I don’t think it should be a requirement. When having one gender can cause significant profit, I think the court might give a minor break to the business. For example, a cabaret dancing club owner would not make any money by hiring males for the shows( only if the audience was exclusively female). So in many cases, opening up the jobs to both genders would make more hiring sense and eliminate discrimination.