Coffee Chain's Hiring Of 'Bubbly, Attractive' Teens Target Of Federal Probe

A local coffee chain, known for its bubbly, attractive female staff in pink shirts, is being investigated by federal officials for possible age and race discrimination, and the chain is complaining that the probe is a "witch hunt."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been quietly probing Marylou's hiring practices for nearly a year, examining reams of job applications and interviewing management and current employees of the 29-store chain about workers' gender, age, race and body type, the Boston Herald reports, citing comments from the company.

The EEOC has declined comment. But company vice president Ronnie Sandry said questions about Marylou's hiring practices were raised after EEOC officials saw local TV commercials, featuring young, white women dancing and singing a company jingle that boasts it has "the best coffee in town." The company denied that it engages in discrimination. Sandry said Marylou's focus in on fun -- not sex.

"We have never had a complaint against us for age discrimination or any kind of discrimination. We feel the EEOC is on a witch hunt," founder Marylou Sandry wrote in a letter to a state senator seeking help, according to the Herald.

Ronnie Sandry said Marylou's has a limited pool of talent for its hires, which tend to be young women from the primarily white South Shore towns and suburbs of Boston.

As with any job, depending on the position that's being filled, "certain people" show up, Sandry told the newspaper. "When we're hiring, certain people apply, and we have no control over it."

'Much A-Brew About Nothing'

Marylou's also sent a letter to state Sen. Robert Hedlund, complaining about the probe. Hedlund said that he is dumbfounded by the EEOC's probe of the iconic chain.

"Why, because they haven't hired old, overweight men who want to wear a pink T-shirt and serve coffee?" Hedlund said, adding that he felt the federal government has better things to do.

Word of the alleged probe led Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan to label the controversy "much a-brew about nothing."

"I tried, and failed, to work myself into an anti-ageist feminist frenzy ... over the allegations," she wrote. "Don't the discrimination fighters have better targets than this?"

Eagan quotes local resident Molly Roman as saying, "I have five daughters. My girls would like to work there." Roman, 43, also said that she's seen women her age at Marylou's outlets in other towns. Eagan adds that a few women who look Roman's age appear in some of Marylou's ads.

The alleged probe is similar to one the EEOC undertook in the mid-1990s into hiring practices at Hooters, which alleged the restaurant chain, which features scantily clad female waitresses, discriminated against men in hiring only women.

The EEOC eventually dropped its case, saying it was devoting its scarce resources elsewhere.

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