Illegal to force to use "sexiness to sell"?

I saw this news item on CNN.

It’s pretty scummy, but is that really the illegal harassment they are suing over? If that’s harassment, how can other more overt businesses, like a phone-sex line, possibly stay in business?


My guess is that bikini photos are not an inherent part of selling chemicals - if I make sexual behavior part of keeping your job when that job doesn’t otherwise involve it, that strikes me as potential lawsuit territory.

By contrast, phonesex operators, models, porn stars, etc. are in jobs that require certain types of behavior or looks or whathaveyou.

Well…sex may not usually be used to sell chemicals, but it can certainly help move certain fluids from Point A to Point B. :slight_smile:

Oddly, AFAIK, Tri Chem mostly sells fabric paints and other crafts goods like spray adhesives, and their end market has more women than men. (I’d guess these saleswomen were talking about selling to chain store buyers, not end users) In all fairness, hiring women as salespersons, and the ‘warm fuzzy’ sales policy might have started as an outreach move, however disgustingly it was later abused.

This suit could really backfire on them, if it became a boycott cause celebre’

Oh for heaven’s sake.

If you want to see absolutely stunning women salespeople, check out Pharmaceutical “Detail Women” (they visit the doctors) and the pinnacle, Advertising “account Executives”.

(Who know nothing about advertising)


(Who knows there’s a store out there that sells these microscopic pinstriped skirts out there… somewhere)

The other question is, at what point are you “forced to” do these sexually inappropriate things?

Woman A and Woman B both join Tri-Chem and sell whatever it is that company sells. Woman A is a babe and plays up her sexuality to sell more product to a sleezy male clientele, and thus, consequently gets more commission and pay. Woman B is attractive and a good saleswoman too, but is more reserved than Woman A… and sells less.

Suddenly, Woman B isn’t meeting her quota and her job is in danger. So, she chooses to start doing the Woman A routine which might be neither encouraged or discouraged by the company…they just want the sales. So one day when Woman B hates her job, is attacked by a pervert customer, etc., the question becomes, was it Tri-Chem’s fault? Partially yes and patially no I think… What if they only had a vague knowledge of what was going on?

It’s a very common practice to use young, attractive women as salespeople. They aren’t the ONLY salespeople out there, but in sales looks are generally at a premium. What’s more these women make a lot more than the women who work in other areas of the firm.

My suspicion is that the advantages that lookism confers on people in terms of salary are directly related to the extent to which looks are important in the generally high-paying fields of sales and (to a slightly lesser extent) management.

I’m in HR.

I would say that the women could make a case that it contributes to a hostile work environment.

Also, they could claim disparate treatment based on gender if the company does not enforce the same “warm and fuzzy” policy with their male employees in the same position.

They could also have a case for constructive discharge stemming from refusal to submit to sexual harassment, which is nearly indefensible in court.

If any of the women complained about the practice, and were subsequently termed, they could sue for retaliation against a sexual harassment complaint.

In my professional opinion, depending on the quality of the claimants lawyers, I’d say:

Ka-ching, baby. Ka-ching.

It’s this kind of stuff that makes HR’s skin crawl.

Tri-Chem also sells some industrial chemicals. I know, because I bought some. The salesgirl assigned to my account sent the bikini calendar to me, along with a signed photo of a very attractive, bikini-clad young woman she claimed was her. She also used the sex angle to try and increase her sales. She eventually left Tri-Chem, and the replacement girl was all business.

I used to do photography for one of those “sell your car here” magazines.

Anyway, we had an ad saleswoman who was an absolute knock-out, always dressed a little more provocative than normal business would require and tend to answer the question “How are you?” with “Feeling sexy.”

We had another woman doing the same job who was older and more professional. She told me how she had gone into one of this other woman’s clients figuring they would be disappointed, but they told her what a relief it was not to have “that tramp” back.

So sometimes it doesn’t work.

I have worked in publishing for decades, and the use of attractive young women to sell ads is so widespread that it would be stupid and disingenuous to deny the practice, though I imagine most publishers would. Then again, most publishers are greedy, lying, theiving bastards from the get-go.

No publisher that I know of uses bikini/lingerie photos of the female sales staff to promote his publication, though this may well be the practice among those few men’s magazines that have survived the Internet. But in mainstream publishing, the ad saleswoman’s sexiness is personal, not photographed.

The interesting thing is that they only had female salespeople. Which may be discriminatory hiring, but only a male would have standing to complain in that case.

Fireman: It would help us if we could see the bikini calendar and picture you are talking about…

Sorry if I sounded shocked at this all-too-common practice. Trust me, I know the practice all to well. Back in to FemLib 70’s I used to argue stuff like this (and the infamous ‘getting out of tickets’) all the time, and as a physician, I know the ‘detail women’ all too well. (They bug me -all carefully-tailored saleskittens do)

In fact I went to med school with a couple of ex-pharmaceutical sales reps, and though I still consider them good friends, the stories they told, without the slightest hint of embarrassment, gave me great pause. It’s amazing what people come to accept as ‘normal’.

Remember the early days of the web, when start-ups and even a few established companies had their webreps assume friendly and flirty female personas and names? (If contact had to be made outside e-mail, you talked to a ‘boss’, who might actually be them in their normal male persona) Back then, I might go weeks without seeing a spam with a male sender name on it,

I think the company should pay out just on sheer stupidity. I mean, who the hell would believe a saleswoman who “casually” says “oh, and this weekend I’m gotta get up early so I can fit my bikini for my Budweiser shoot”?

Stupid, stupid…

From the other side as BrianS – I’m a plaintiff’s lawyer who does some employment cases:

  1. Hostile work environment. It’s certainly not going to make some (or maybe any) of the women comfortable around the men in the office, whether they are the models or not.

  2. The “warm and fuzzy” angle sounds a little like quid pro quo harassment. If your boss says “come out to dinner with me, sexy, and wear that little outfit, and you will do better in your review”, that’s easy to see. It’s not too far removed to say the same about “go out to dinner with” or “get warm and fuzzy with” the client and you will do better, etc.
    Bottom line: Ka-ching? No. I’d probably tell someone in that situation to file an EEOC complaint just to drive the bastards up a wall (ask BrianS – it’s like getting an audit notice from the IRS), but I don’t think there’s too much jury appeal. Bad idea? Yes. Are there a lot of instances where the same thing is done, just more subtly? Of course.
    JohnW77707, Esq.

Neither are bikini photos a part of selling chicken wings at Hooters, but that seems to work, for a family restaurant.