Career experts often advise job seekers to consider whether they fit into a company’s culture before they spend too much time trying to get hired.

But what if you think you fit the culture but the employer doesn’t?

Let’s say a hiring manager doesn’t think you have the right heritage, mores, values, or habits of the company. I took those words right out of the dictionary definition of culture. That’s what we’re talking about after all; how you fit into a company’s mini society.

bassproshopsheaderlogo2011-full.pngTake Bass Pro Shops for example. The fishing and hunting retailer with stores that include an endless stream of dead animals and a log-cabin feel definitely has it’s own aura, and they make no bones about it. They even sell a t-shirt with the name “Redneck Fishfinder” emblazoned on the front. Here’s the definition of redneck:

a working-class white person, esp. a politically reactionary one from a rural area

What if you’re not a redneck? Can an employer refuse to hire you? The government is accusing the company of just that.

Yesterday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced a suit against Bass Pro charging the retailer “engaged in a pattern or practice of failing to hire African-American and Hispanic applicants for positions in its retail stores nationwide, and retaliated against employees who opposed the discriminatory practices.”

Bass Pro, the suit alleged,

has been discriminating in its hiring since at least November 2005. The EEOC’s suit alleges that qualified African-Americans and Hispanics were routinely denied retail positions such as cashier, sales associate, team leader, supervisor, manager and other positions at many Bass Pro stores nationwide.

The lawsuit alleges that managers at Bass Pro stores in the Houston area, in Louisiana, and elsewhere made overtly racially derogatory remarks acknowledging the discriminatory practices, including that hiring black candidates did not fit the corporate profile.

Ah, that pesky old corporate profile.

Companies want to build a certain profile, but when they deny certain employees a chance to be part of it because of the employee’s profile that’s a legal no no.

Bass Pro is defending it’s hiring practices, and it’s culture, saying the EEOC is just singling them out because of the image they portray.

This from a Wall Street Journal story today:

“This investigation and the EEOC’s conduct demonstrate a troubling tendency by the EEOC to stereotype those who love outdoor sports and support conservation as people who unlawfully discriminate or oppose equal opportunity for all,” said Mike Rowland, vice president of human resources at Bass Pro Outdoor World LLC, which is based in Springfield, Mo.

A company wanting to preserve a certain culture seems reasonable. But as others have found out, denying jobs to a certain group because of it gets you in hot water. Abercrombie & Fitch got in trouble for trying to maintain a hip, young, white staff a few years ago.

Indeed, Bass Pro Shops are seen by many as a fairly white-bred type of place. What do you all think of when you imagine someone hunting and fishing in the woods? Did Bass Pro Shops just want to maintain that illusion, and in the process thwart the law?

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