John Stossel

You've probably heard of Hooters -- the restaurant chain known for attracting male customers by hiring waitresses who are well-endowed and dressed to show it.

The firm now employs more than 30,000 people. Some would consider this a success story, but our government didn't. Not because Hooters is using sex to sell -- but because its waitresses are -- get ready -- women!

"Discrimination!" cried the federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The business of Hooters is food, said the government, and "no physical trait unique to women is required to serve food." EEOC lawyers demanded Hooters produce all its hiring data, and then grilled Hooters for four years. Mike McNeil, Hooters' vice president of marketing, told "20/20" the EEOC bureaucrats demanded to look at reams of paperwork. "Employee manuals, training manuals, marketing manuals -- virtually everything that's involved in how we run our business . . . "

The EEOC then issued a set of demands. First, it defined a class of disappointed males who had not been hired by the company. The EEOC said, according to McNeil: "We want you to establish a $22-million fund for this mythical 'class' of dissuaded male applicants. We want you to conduct sensitivity training studies to teach all of your employees to be more sensitive to the needs of men."

I suspect Hooters' customers are mostly men who think the firm is quite sensitive to their needs, thank you -- and that there would indeed be a class of disappointed males if the government insisted men do the jobs of Hooters girls.

Typically, companies assaulted by EEOC lawyers just pay up to avoid ruinous legal fees, but Hooters fought back, cleverly, not just in court, but in the court of public opinion. Hooters waitresses marched on Washington, chanting, "Save our jobs." A burly Hooters manager dressed as a Hooters waitress posed for cameras, beard and all, demonstrating what a "Hooters Guy" might look like.

That was a hoot, and it may have worked. Lawyers representing male applicants accepted an out-of-court settlement of $3.75 million, a fraction of the $22 million that had been demanded. The EEOC dropped its demands for sensitivity training; Hooters agreed to create more jobs like busboys and managers, which didn't have to be performed by women.

Sears found itself in the EEOC's cross hairs because more men than women held jobs selling things like lawn mowers and appliances. The disparate numbers themselves were proof, said the government, that Sears discriminated against women.

Sears denied discriminatiing: "We asked women to do those jobs. It's just that few women want to sell things like lawn mowers."

Is that too politically incorrect a concept for government lawyers to get? Men and women do have different interests. Go to any Wal-Mart and you'll see women looking at clothes, men in the hardware department. There are exceptions, of course, but the sexes do tend to have different interests.

More men selling lawn mowers and more women selling cosmetics does not imply evil discrimination that requires armies of lawyers from the State. Show me women who want to sell lawn mowers but are being required to sell cosmetics instead -- or men who want to sell cosmetics but have to sell lawn mowers -- and we have grounds for discussion. But if the women choose the cosmetics counter, any discrimination is their own.

The EEOC was unable to produce any women who would complain that they'd been discriminated against, so Sears finally won the suit. The $20 million the litigation cost was passed on to us customers.

Have these and other EEOC excesses embarrassed the government into shrinking the EEOC? Of course not. It now has 2,400 employees, and spent $326.8 million in 2005 -- millions more than the year before. Government keeps growing, and as it grows, it feeds on our money, erodes our freedom and defies our common sense.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate