If you haven’t seen it, take the time to watch the first episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show which aired in 1970.
Lou Grant asks Mary about her age, religion and marital status in a job interview. It’s unclear how much has changed in the workplace since then when you look at discrimination charges, which I include below.
The show and Moore are getting a lot of attention since she passed away yesterday, and some labor experts are pointing out what she’s done to shape employment rights in this country.
Daniel Schwartz, an employment attorney for partner at Shipman & Goodwin LLP, and @Danielschwartz on Twitter, penned a great piece the Connecticut Employment Law Blog about the infamous job interview of Mary by Lou Grant, the grumpy TV producer.
First, you have the supervisor (Lou) asking Mary what her age was. (Sigh.) To compound matters, he then asks what her religion is. (Double sigh.)
But this is where the show was groundbreaking — Mary doesn’t just respond. She’s a “modern woman” (as The New York Times called her) and tells him: “I don’t know quite how to tell you this, but you’re not allowed to ask that question when someone is applying for a job. It’s against the law.” He pushes back — “You gonna call the cops?” To which, Mary demurs.
And the interview continues with personal questions including whether she was married (she was not). Then Mary stands up and calls him out for asking so many questions that have nothing to do with the job.
Lou responds in a classic line: “You’ve Got Spunk.” Of course, he then says he hates “spunk” but this was the early 1970s and she was still hired.
It’s a classic example of what not to do. And there’s a funny cartoon of the interview that really lays out how bad what Lou did.
“With the hindsight of history,” Schwartz writes, “all employment lawyers can point to Mary Tyler Moore as giving workplace issues their rightful place.”
Having a rightful place, however, doesn’t mean discrimination is a thing of the past.
Data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, shows discrimination is still alive and well.
Religion. The number of charges filed with the agency have jumped 50%, and steadily climbed in recent years to 3,825 in 2016.
Age. Charges are up 25% in the past decade to 20,857 charges last year.
Might be time for another Mary Tyler Moore type show to get us on the right track.