Wilson v. Southwest Airlines Co.
517 F.Supp. 292 (N.D.Tex.1981)

Facts:
Southwest hired an ad agency to develop a winning marketing strategy. That strategy was to be the ‘love airline.’ So the company hired only attractive females for the customer contact positions of flight attendant and ticket agent. Southwest went on to have a lot of success with the campaign.

  • Wilson and a class of over 100 male job applicants then challenged Southwest’s open refusal to hire males as a violation of Title VII.
  • Southwest tried to argue that the BFOQ exception Title VII justified hiring only females for the positions.
  • The BFOQ exception permits sex discrimination in situations where the employer can prove that sex is a ‘bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise.’

Issue:
Whether femininity, or more accurately female sex appeal, is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for the jobs of flight attendant and ticket agent with Southwest Airlines.

Holding:
No.

Reasoning:
There’s a two-part test to see if the BFOQ defense applies:

(1) Does the particular job under consideration require that the worker be of one sex only?

  • This part is designed to test whether sex is so essential to job performance that a member of the opposite sex simply could not do the same job.

(2) If so, is that requirement reasonably necessary to the ‘essence’ of the employer’s business?

  • This part is designed to assure that the qualification being scrutinized is one so important to the operation of the business that the business would be undermined if employees of the “wrong” sex were hired.

Here:

(1) Being female is not a qualification required to perform successfully the jobs of flight attendant and ticket agent with Southwest.
(2) The ‘essence’ of Southwest’s business is to provide safe transportation of its passengers – attractive women can be viewed as tangential.

  • Sex discrimination is not a business necessity for Southwest as it would be for say, a Playboy Bunny.
  • The court also found it relevant that Southwest’s female image was adopted at its discretion, to promote a business unrelated to sex.