Ugliness – Should it be a Protected Class

The American’s with Disability Act – ADA protects people from discrimination in housing, employment, etc. Under this federal legal protection a prospective employer, landlord.. can not discriminate based upon a disability.  Certain disabilities are obvious for instance a paraplegic is obviously disabled.  But what about someone who is ugly?

Daniel S. Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas, Austin, opines that “ugliness” may ought to be a protected class under the ADA. The op-ed in the NY Times  written by Hamermesh attempts to make the case.  Good looking people, both men and women, tend to be more successful.  Juries listen to a good looking attorney more than an ugly one according to Hamermesh.  People in general gravitate to the more attractive in all walks of life – politicians, sales people, and the list goes on.  According to Hamermesh good looking people earn an average of $230,000 more in a lifetime than so -called ugly people.

However, there are some complications with this ugliness disability theory.  First, how many people would readily admit to being “ugly”?  What standards would the courts use to determine ugly versus good looking?  If you can past these two problems then you would have to prove that you were actually discriminated against because of your looks.

According to the article  such protections do exist in a few places, including in some jurisdictions in California, and in the District of Columbia, where discriminatory treatment based on looks in hiring, promotions, housing and other areas is prohibited.  Ugly people could be allowed to seek help from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other agencies in overcoming the effects of discrimination. We could even have affirmative-action programs for the ugly according to Hamermesh. Really?

It is a sign of the times – looks are the focus in so many areas of life. But, an extension of protection for ugly people.  It is sad that a person who is not considered “good looking ” has a harder time getting certain jobs, and with life in general.  The reality, however, is that the creation of a protected class of people as being looks impaired would create more of a stigma for the non-good looking people, and create a legal nightmare.  Imagine the number of lawsuits attorneys could file — arguing that a client is really ugly, and of course that is the only reason he/she didn’t get the job.  Who would sit on a jury? Maybe the jury should be comprised of equal numbers of good looking and “ugly” people.

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