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Sex does not become a bona fide occupational qualification merely because an employer chooses to exploit female sexuality as a marketing tool, or to better insure profitability.
Plaintiff Gregory Wilson and the class of over 100 male job applicants he represents have challenged Airlines's open refusal to hire males as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The class further alleges that Southwest's published height-weight requirement for flight attendants operates to exclude from eligibility a greater proportion of male than female applicants. Southwest Airlines contended that their discrimination fell within the bona fide occupational qualification exception found in § 703(e) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e-2(e).
Is femininity, or more accurately female sex appeal, a bona fide occupational qualification ("BFOQ") for the jobs of flight attendant and ticket agent with Southwest Airlines?
The court evaluated the case under the test of whether a single sex requirement was necessary to the performance of the job and if that requirement was reasonably necessary to the essence of the employer's business. The court held that being female was not a qualification to perform successfully the jobs of flight attendants and ticket agents. Although the employer marketed its business using the female allure and sex appeal of its employees, those non-mechanical, sex-linked job functions were only tangential to ticket agents' and flight attendants' primary business function of assisting the transportation of passengers, and the employer's desire to continue that marketing campaign did not rise to the level of business necessity.