Gung Hay Fat Choy: Dogs, Irrational Discrimination & Judge Alito

Gung Hay Fat Choy: Happy Chinese New Year! As millions, if not billions, of people worldwide celebrate the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year, it’s the season for parades, feasts and family. However, if you’re someone born in the upcoming Year of the Dog, you might have good reason to be worried — or maybe not. Conflicting reports out of China indicate that some companies are refusing to hire those born in the Year of the Dog, while other companies are hiring only those born in the same set of years. Setting aside all the obvious puns, such as “working like a dog,” and “dog years,” what’s happening in China could just as easily happen here, especially if Judge Samuel Alito is confirmed to the Supreme Court, and I’m not barking up the wrong tree.

January 29th, the second new moon after the winter solstice, marked the first day of the Chinese New Year, year 4703, with its accompanying symbols: the famous dragon dances, fortune cookies, the familiar red and gold banners, along with traditional foods prepared for good luck. This Year is the Year of the Dog, giving way to last year’s Year of the Rooster: each year is named after an animal like a mascot. (See article.)

People born in a particular year are believed to possess particular traits associated with the animal after whom the year is named. People born in the Year of the Dog (which also includes those born in 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, and 1994) possess the best traits of human nature, and are good leaders. They have a deep sense of loyalty, are honest and inspire other people’s confidence because they know how to keep secrets. They care little for wealth, yet somehow always seem to have money. They can be cold emotionally and sometimes distant at parties. They can find fault with many things and are noted for their sharp tongues. (See Norwich Bulletin article.)

Part of this Chinese tradition is that persons born in a certain year will have bad luck all year long when their year rolls around again. For those born in the Year of the Dog, the bad luck started even before the new year arrived, when some Chinese companies looking for new recruits started refusing to hire candidates born as dogs to ward off the bad luck expected for people in years of their same sign. (See Reuters article.) This information was disclosed in a hearing about a new labor law before the Chinese parliament, with one Chinese legislator saying “Workplace discrimination has even reached this ridiculous level.”

Actually, China’s most ridiculous level had probably already been reached several years before the Year of the Dog, when female applicants for a government job in central Hunan province had to show they had symmetrically shaped breasts. (See Philadelphia Inquirer article.) The rule was only rescinded in 2004. We’d like to think that couldn’t happen here (and I do think we can realistically expect that this isn’t a criteria for any government jobs), but you can almost hear the defense argument now: We didn’t discriminate because she was a woman, we discriminated against her because she was asymmetrical. We already have companies who admit to firing women whose weight isn’t perfectly proportional, with hourglass figures (see CBS News article) and whose makeup isn’t up to snuff (see Hotel Online article), so it’s not really that much of a leap, is it?

All is not lost for those unlucky Dogs, however: at least one company is hiring only Dogs these days. Mr. Dong, a personnel manager for a human resources firm in northern China, said that said his company believes people born in dog years are simply more suited to its corporate culture. According to Mr. Dong, “We believe that people born in dog years are born with some good characteristics such as loyalty and honesty….As a human resource company, those characters are exactly what we need.” (See Associated Press article.)

Although some college graduates currently engaged in intense competition for available jobs complained about the practice, Mr. Dong defended it, saying “I think we have the right to choose our employees by our own rule and I don’t see this rule could hurt anybody.” Mr. Dong wasn’t too worried about being prosecuted, either: although Chinese law forbids discrimination in hiring, it doesn’t say what constitutes an offense. Job ads often come with a list of conditions including gender, age, height and even place of birth. (See Associated Press article.)

Sounds a little too much like one certain candidate for Supreme Court justice, doesn’t it? Judge Samuel Alito would throw out cases on summary judgment where “an employer…claims that it, in its business judgment, thought one candidate was better qualified than the other.” (See NELA’s Report on Judge Samuel Alito at p. 9.) So whether it’s a Chinese-run business who thinks those born in the Year of the Dog make better (or worse) employees, or casinos who think that those born with hourglass figures keep gamblers at the tables longer, it’s hard to argue with business judgment, isn’t it, Judge Alito? With the very real possibility that Judge Alito’s nomination will be confirmed, lots of employees could soon be in the doghouse.

Take Action Now: Oppose the Supreme Court Nomination of Judge Samuel Alito

More Information:

Alito: Should Workers Trust His Actions, Or His Words?
Looking for the Superemployee
[Note: As I was writing this blog entry on January 30, unbeknownst to me, two fired employees were filing a sex discrimination lawsuit against Borgata. (See Reuters article.)]

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.