Yes, it’s legal to not hire any Virgos
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Yes, it’s legal to not hire any Virgos
During the interview process for a summer associate position, second-year law student Sydney Baxter was asked your standard get-to-know-you questions: “Tell me something that’s not on your resume.”
“What kinds of shows do you like to watch?”
Then came: “What’s your sign?”
“Like, zodiac sign?” said Baxter, unsure of what the law firm associate was asking. After confirming that he indeed wanted to know the exact position the Sun was located in at the time she was born, she revealed that she’s a Leo.
Baxter, who’s a student at Villanova University, was surprised that the question came up in a process as formal as a law firm interview. Although Baxter said she felt the question was more of an ice breaker, some employers have used it to narrow down the candidate pool.
“Glee” actress Heather Morris recently said in an interview that Jennifer Lopez cut potential dancers during tour auditions based on their zodiac sign.
“She walks in the room and she said, ‘Thank you so much, you guys have worked so hard. By a show of hands if there are any Virgos in the room, can you just raise your hand?’” said Morris, who noted that she wasn’t in the room and had heard this story from others.
Lopez, a Leo, then allegedly said, “Thank you so much for coming,” axing them from the hiring process.
One in 4 Americans say that they believe in astrology, with younger adults more likely to think planetary alignments influence your personality, according to a poll from YouGov. Some high-profile employers, other than J. Lo, believe in it so strongly that they’ve also considered it a factor in the job selection process.
In an interview with The Cut back in 2019, YouTube beauty guru Michelle Phan said that she asked prospective candidates their astrology sign during interviews as a way to ensure balance in the workplace.
“I wanted a very nice, diverse, astrological place. If I have a team of water signs, it’s going to be too emotional, too volatile. Or if I have too many earth signs, it will be too grounded. If I have too many fire signs, it will be too volatile, everyone will be competing,” said Phan, who’s an Aries.
Emily Weiss, founder of the minimalist beauty and skincare company Glossier, also asked candidates this question during interviews, according to an investigation into Weiss’ managing tactics from Insider. She would then explain how compatible or incompatible their signs were with hers — an Aries, coincidentally just like Phan.
Driven by an obsession to cultivate the ideal workforce, employers have a long tradition of using psychological tests to categorize their employees, using tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
Astrology is another tool used to infer someone’s character, allowing people to neatly package the complexity of human behavior into discrete groups. In a letter to the column Ask a Manager, one anonymous supervisor sought advice about an employee who used astrology to analyze teammates and would make judgments like, “Oh you should totally be the person who does that task, it’s such a Leo thing.”
While asking someone their zodiac sign during an interview might seem unusual, it isn’t illegal, according to Ann Juliano, a law professor at Villanova University who teaches a labor and employment law class where Baxter is a student.
“Most employment is what’s known as employment at will, which means the employer can hire or fire for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all — except a prohibited reason,” Juliano explained.
Those prohibited reasons include firing someone based on their race, gender, religion or national origin, among other protected classes.
Employment law generally tries not to interfere with the employer’s judgment, Juliano said. A federal, state or local ordinance would have to prohibit an employer from asking that question, she said.
But while it’s not unlawful, Juliano said that phrasing this question in a certain way could raise issues when it comes to protected classes. “If an applicant for employment tells an employer that astrology is against their religious beliefs and the employer refused to hire them because of that, the applicant could have a claim for religious discrimination,” she said.
Or issues could arise if employers are using the question as a way to mask discriminatory behavior.
So if you’re looking at two 35-year-old white male candidates, and you want a Capricorn and not a Sagittarius, yes, it is legal to hire that Capricorn based on his sign, said Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist and the founder of Dattner Consulting.
But if all the Capricorns applying for jobs were white, and all the Sagittarius applicants were people of a different race, a plaintiff could make the argument that favoring Capricorns “was just a proxy” for ethnic or racial discrimination, Dattner explained.
Juliano also pointed out that even if an employer asks for your sign during an interview, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll act upon that information.
And the intent can differ during the interview process: perhaps they’re using it to actually judge and cull candidates (like J. Lo, allegedly) or using it as a conversation starter.
Baxter said that she ultimately ended up accepting a job at another law firm for reasons unrelated to that interview question. Going forward, she’s interested in seeing whether case law will develop around astrology and if we’ll gain more clarity as to whether it should constitute a form of employment discrimination.
“The law right now doesn’t really provide any sort of protection for that,” Baxter said. “We do live in an employment-at-will world where hiring and firing is kind of done as employers wish. I think there needs to be a close eye on what kind of questions are asked in the interview process.”
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