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A series of international hiring blunders by U.S. companies and the rise of globalization has Corporate America paying closer attention to its hiring practices abroad. Employment and labor attorneys say they are increasingly warning U.S. companies about engaging in discriminatory hiring practices in other countries that are considered illegal here. Their warnings follow a series of questionable and embarrassing “help wanted” ads placed by several American companies over the last year. In Mexico, Michigan-based automotive supplier Lear Corp. recently ran a classified ad for a secretary in Mexico seeking a female, aged 20-28, preferably single, with excellent presentation. A photo was also requested. The Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. ran an online ad in Mexico seeking a human resources assistant who is male, single and between the ages of 21 and 25. Coca-Cola Femsa, a Mexican bottler partly owned by Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co., also ran an online ad for a male route driver, aged 25 to 30, at least 5 feet 9 inches tall, between 154 and 176 pounds, with a good presentation. Even a law firm, Baker & McKenzie, recently ran an online ad seeking a male real estate attorney for an office in Mexico, where a company recruiter said that Mexican clients feel more comfortable getting legal counsel from men. The golden rule While none of these companies has faced legal action for the ads, employment attorneys warn that such tactics are land mines that could tarnish a company’s image. The golden rule, they say, is that if you don’t do it here, don’t do it there. “To the extent you can, abide by the U.S. law, even if it’s not required,” advised Jeffrey Pasek, who chairs the labor and employment practice at Philadelphia’s Cozen O’Connor. “You want people to live by the higher standard because it makes good business sense.” Pasek also cautioned companies against blaming outside contractors for discriminatory practices abroad. “It might be a defense to a legal claim, but it’s not a defense in the court of public opinion,” Pasek said, noting, “Discriminatory hiring practices can be a public relations nightmare.” Marko Mrkonich, an attorney at San Francisco-based Littler Mendelson’s Minneapolis office, advises his clients to look to their corporate policies when dealing with international hiring concerns. “If you have a corporate code of conduct that promises something, and if you say you’re not going to discriminate based on gender, and it’s not limited by country, why would you be able to go into a country and advertise separately on gender?” he said. “Make sure you’re compliant with what you tell the world you’re going to do.” Amy Bess, an employment and labor attorney in the Washington office of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, said companies have become much more aware of the pitfalls of hiring overseas, largely because of the globalization of the marketplace and because work forces are much more mobile. Also, word gets out quickly when someone messes up, she added. “I get 15 different e-mail publications on a daily basis that report on the latest employer to screw up in some part of the world,” said Bess, adding that employers are increasingly seeking guidance from their attorneys about how to avoid similar problems. Meanwhile, American companies facing scrutiny over foreign “help wanted” ads claimed that they were unaware of the ads, noting that local managers or third parties handle hiring issues. “Unfortunately, it is a reflection of how difficult it is to monitor global operations,” Dan Ninivaggi, general counsel for Lear Corp., said of the secretary ad that was placed in Mexico. “It’s clearly a blatant violation of our equal employment policy . . . .We’re addressing the issue very aggressively to make sure that not only does it not happen again, but that the letter and spirit of our equal employment policy is followed throughout our organization.” Pepsi officials, meanwhile, defended the Mexican ad seeking a single, male human resources assistant, maintaining that the ad was neither discriminatory nor a breach of Mexican law. “What the ad reflected were local customs,” Pepsi spokeswoman Kelly McAndrew said. “It is by no means the definitive criteria by which a candidate is either evaluated or ultimately hired. That is the key point.” McAndrew noted, however, that Pepsi’s Mexican human resources officials announced last month that Internet ads would no longer ask about age, gender or marital status. Ad said to be an ‘aberration’ Baker & McKenzie, meanwhile, issued a statement calling the online ad seeking a male lawyer in Mexico “an aberration and the gender specific language entirely inconsistent with the standard hiring practices of the Firm, both within its Mexican offices and globally.” The firm said the ad was revised, and those responsible for it were reminded of the “proper approach for this, and all future, recruitment initiatives.” Coca-Cola officials in Atlanta were unavailable for comment.

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