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Could Men Sue Beyoncé for Employment Discrimination

Could Men Sue for Not Being Allowed in Beyonce’s All-Female Band, the Sugar Mamas?

(*Disclaimer: While other state and federal laws may apply, the scope of this article is limited to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as imposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency of the United States Government that enforces the federal employment discrimination laws. This article does not constitute legal advice.*)

What makes someone a “superstar”? While there is no precise definition, perhaps ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd offers the most reasonable superstardom test: does the average person know their name? Very few satisfy this test better than pop music artist and global icon Beyoncé; even typing her name on a smartphone automatically prompts a tilde over the “e” like she spells it!

Beyoncé’s prominence was epitomized as the halftime performer at this year’s Superbowl XVLII, the most watched television event to date. Among those who accompanied Beyoncé on stage was a 10-piece, all-female band known as the “Sugar Mamas.” Beyoncé says she started the band “so young girls could have more role models.”[1] Good intention, but this presents itself with an interesting opportunity for some legal insight. Let’s play.

Assuming Beyoncé is not a group member but is actually the employer of the Sugar Mamas, would it be employment discrimination to bar men from joining the Sugar Mamas simply because they are men? When is it okay to restrict employment to certain groups of people, and how could an employer justify not hiring certain groups of people?

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act lays the foundation for what constitutes discriminatory hiring practices. Section 703 of Title VII, “Unlawful Employment Practices”, provides the following guidelines for employer practices:

“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

However, there is an exception to the rule, no pun intended. Title VII provides that it is not discrimination to hire someone on the basis of religion, sex, or national origin where it “is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise.” Put more simply, if an employer can prove that no member outside of the group it desires to hire can perform the job, the employer has not engaged in discriminatory practices.

So, let’s say there is an opening in the Sugar Mamas for a new saxophonist. The old saxophonist left to film an upcoming movie produced by Beyoncé, “Vision Girls.” Along comes Bruno, a renowned saxophonist who applies for the position. However, Beyoncé says he cannot play because no man can be a Sugar Mama. Can a lawsuit be filed? The short answer is of course; it’s America, we can sue for virtually anything! So the upset Bruno hires an attorney, Mars, and sues Beyoncé for employment discrimination. After receiving the complaint, Beyoncé turns to her attorney, Knowles. Does Bruno have a realistic shot at winning?

While victory is never guaranteed, Bruno does have a viable shot at winning against Beyoncé. Under Title VII, Bruno could bring suit because the denial of his employment is based on his sex. Denying him employment because he is male is “prima facie” discrimination or self-evident discrimination that is presumed to be true as fact. That’s the easy part. However, for every action, there is an opposite reaction, or in this case, a defense for Beyoncé and the Sugar Mamas.

Recall that Title VII allows an employer to hire certain people for a “bona fide occupational quality.” For example, it would not be discriminatory for a Christian church to only employ fellow Christians as church deacons.

Knowles may argue that being female is necessary to achieve Beyoncé’s goal of giving young girls role models. While emotionally appealing, Knowles would likely have a difficult time showing that completely excluding male members from the Sugar Mamas is necessary to fulfill Beyoncé’s intention; men and women alike can presumably perform the basic job functions of musicians and role model. Sorry, Beyoncé, but it looks like the single ladies of the Sugar Mamas could have a man in their midst.

In reality, it’s unlikely that Bruno would bring such an action forward. The legal costs alone would probably deter him from filing a lawsuit. Then again, imagine the press from a headline reading, “Man Sues Beyoncé to be a Sugar Mama”! Digressing, if you think that anecdote was a little far-fetched, it was not. Similar suits have been brought before a court of law in the past.

In 1997, a group of men sued Hooters for being denied employment. Hooters, known more for its scantily clad female servers than potato skins, sought to classify itself as a provider of “vicarious sexual entertainment” in the suit. Hooters argued that being a female was a bona fide occupational quality of the job, which entails providing eye candy and sensual stimulation to its customers. Hooters settled the lawsuit for $3.75 million (that sounds like a lot, but the men who filed received less than $20,000 per person). TheSolid Savings”>settlement allowed Hooters to continue luring customers with a female staff of Hooters Girls. But the chain also agreed to create a few other support jobs, like bartenders and hosts that must be filled without regard to sex.[2] How is that for a real-life example?

Always remember that no one is immune to the law. Be careful when setting hiring standards. Otherwise, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may have something to say about your exclusive independent women staff. Don’t make the law upgrade you and leave you full of resentment.

-C. Charles Ivory

Guest Writer