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U.S. hiring standards get left at border; Job ads that in this country might bring lawsuits alleging bias are routine in Mexico

U.S. hiring standards get left at border
Job ads that in this country might bring lawsuits alleging bias are routine in Mexico
By Marla Dickerson and Meredith Mandell | Tribune Newspapers: Los Angeles Times | October 30, 2006

MEXICO CITY — When Michigan-based automotive supplier Lear Corp. needed a secretary for its office in the central Mexico state of Guanajuato, it placed a classified ad seeking a "female … aged 20 to 28 … preferably single … with excellent presentation."

And to make sure it got the right candidate, Lear asked applicants to include a recent photo with their resumes.

In the United States that ad might draw howls of protests and trigger lawsuits and hefty fines. But in Mexico, where jobs are scarce and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws all but non-existent, employers routinely select hires on criteria more appropriate for a beauty contest.

Job seekers considered too old, too chunky or too dark are screened out by companies that sometimes specify the ideal candidate’s marital status, height, weight, tone of voice, even the part of town in which the person should reside.

What is less known is that many U.S. corporations–including Coca-Cola, Pepsi Bottling, Shell Oil and 7-Eleven–are engaging in hiring practices that appear to violate their U.S. fair-employment policies.

They include companies that trumpet their diversity initiatives north of the border, even top-drawer Chicago-based law firm Baker & McKenzie, which should be familiar with Mexican laws prohibiting discrimination.

"Why are so many of them not complying with the same standards they have to comply with in the United States? Because they can get away with it," said anti-discrimination attorney Gloria Allred.

Lear officials in the United States said they had no knowledge of the Mexican job posting.

Provided with a copy, spokeswoman Andrea Puchalsky later issued a statement declaring that the ad was not in keeping with Lear’s equal-employment policies and that it would be revised to remove references to sex, age and similar criteria.

Mexico’s constitution and federal labor code prohibit discrimination based on age, sex, ethnicity, religion, marital status, health and other factors. But legal experts say Mexicans rarely complain to authorities or file employment discrimination lawsuits, partly because seeking redress is a lengthy and expensive process.

"They don’t contract you if you don’t have a pretty face or a pretty body," said Patricia Tellez, a plump lawyer who was one of hundreds of anxious hopefuls packing a recent job fair in Tlajomulco, not far from Guadalajara.

Some U.S. employers should know better. Baker & McKenzie, a Chicago-based law firm, recently advertised for a real estate attorney–a male one–for its office in the northern Mexico city of Monterrey.

Celene Caballero, a firm recruiter in Mexico, said Mexican clients feel more comfortable with men representing them. The firm, which a California jury in 1994 ordered to pay millions to a former female secretary to settle a landmark sexual-harassment case, said the online Mexican ad was "an aberration" that would be revised.